Network: Libertarians: can't live with them, can't get rid of them. Life - even on the Net - just isn't that straightforward

Newcomers to the Internet expecting a cornucopia of friends tend to be surprised when they find that the animals bite. The views, especially political ones, that are expressed on the Net are far more extreme than in real life, and usually more bluntly put. But the radicalism is all in one direction. You do not find many card-carrying socialists posting on the Net, arguing for higher taxes and unemployment benefit. Hell, no. It's stacked with wild-fingered individualists who reckon that the only thing better than a gun is two guns, that all taxes are too high, and that the problem with society today (they always mean American society) is that there's too much damn government.

For example, I recently saw one well-known Net journalist who writes for Time magazine insisting that the real problem with the US healthcare system is that it's so severely distorted. The problem, he said, is that it's not enough of a free market.

At this point, the newcomer begins pinching folds of skin to make sure this is not a dream. The US healthcare market is too regulated? Hello? As was rapidly pointed out, no nation on this planet has such a free-market healthcare system as the States. Its problems stem from things like reckless malpractice suits - a very free-market action. The journalist wasn't about to change his view, though. He's convinced it's all the US government's fault.

His sort of view is surprisingly common among Americans who express their views on the Net. It's a creed called "libertarianism", and among its followers are people like Louis Rossetto, founder of Wired magazine, and various Silicon Valley millionaires. Their basic creed is that anything but the most minimal government is unnecessary, and that the world would run so much better if everyone had "contracts" with everyone and everything else, in which property rights ruled supreme.

I won't bother here to go into why I think that these ideas are a total crock, as the critiques are done better, and at greater length, at two Web locations: http://www.spectacle.org/897/finkel.html and http://world.std.com/mhuben/libindex.html.

Instead, I want to examine the question that popped into my head the other day: why is it that you get such an overwhelming proportion of libertarians on the Net?

There's no doubt their Net presence is disproportionate. A poll of 1,000 voters before last year's US presidential election revealed that 0.3 per cent of the population would vote for Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate. In other words, three people in the telephone sample picked him. Many other fringe candidates were way ahead. Had those phone votes turned into real votes, Browne would have got a nationwide total of 330,000.

But try an AltaVista search on the word "libertarian", and you get more than 14,500 references. Sure, some are negative, but not that many. (By contrast "communism" gets 6,000-odd.) And it certainly feels as though there's many more than a quarter of a million libertarian loons out there.

Why? Quickly we'll visit the libertarian credo, which flows from the works of Ayn Rand, author of two dire books called The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. At the credo's heart is a single axiom: "Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech and property." Accompanying this is the statement that "government's only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud".

If that sounds reasonable to you, I should point out that this is used to justify child slavery, racial and sexual discrimination, the absence of any pharmaceutical regulation (even for deadly substances) and ownership of tactical nuclear weapons by private security firms. (If they nuke you, you sue the hell out of them.) The important thing, though, is that everything pertaining to this philosophy flows out of that single sentence. Why, it's so simple you could boil it down to a computer program.

Which I think is the overriding attraction of this creed to Netties. It turns the unpredictable, shifting world - and unpredictable, emotional people - into objects which could be regimented by a simple flow diagram. It's IF-THEN-GO-TO applied to politics and everything else. You don't even have to interact properly with people to back libertarianism. You can just complain about how unsatisfactory the world is, because in essence people aren't like computers - even though that's how the hardcore Net nerds would like their life, including their politics, to be.

To them, the compromise and uncertainty essential to real-world power- broking is anathema. (The American journalist mentioned above is presently reporting in Washington, and finds the endless give-and-take of the political process hugely frustrating).

So I don't expect libertarianism to conquer the real world anytime soon. But I do think those who espouse it might try, say, sitting on a few town councils. Apart from the fact that by doing so they'd learn something about Realpolitik, it would also give the rest of us some room to put across a few of our own views. Death penalty for middle-lane motorway roadhogs, anyone?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits