Libertarians and the Root of All Evil
Potluck Commentary from Your Libertarian Opinionizer
For the Record: This article is not a potboiler. A potboiler is a work whipped out hastily and shoddily for a quick buck. Since these Commentaries never bring in more than a few slow pennies this article does not rise to the level of a potboiler. It is a potluck article, cooked up from stuff that’s been laying around for a while and rediscovered during a spring cleaning of digital files.
The funny—and sometimes fun—thing about the internet is that the very latest greatest up-to-datest nitpick of news and views can appear in a Tweet or a heartbeat only to disappear as quickly as it appeared.
Only to be stumbled upon again years later.
It turns out, for the purposes of this potluck article, that a professor at Roger Williams University discovered the True Root of All Evil way back in 2014.
Libertarians have for several decades believed that they have known the True Root of All Evil; coercion, intimidation, and fraud as clearly identified in their signature brand, NAP, the non-aggression principle.
The Many Roots for Evil
But before getting on to the root of the Roger Williams University professor’s Root of All Evil here are a few words—or at least as many words as necessary to meet the definition of a potluck article like this one—about the leading candidates for Root of All Evil.
Many people over time have rooted around for what they considered to be the Root of All Evil, such as racism, lust, envy, ignorance, ego, psychopathy or Donald Trump. Then there’s this one from Max Born:
“The belief that there is only one truth, and that oneself is in possession of it, is the root of all evil in the world.”—Max Born, German physicist and mathematician
One disagreement with this quote: It’s not the belief that is the Root of All Evil any more than the love of it is; it’s the act of imposing that belief on others that is evil.
It’s what makes libertarianism unique among virtually all other major belief systems; the refusal to impose their beliefs on others.
“The older I get the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.”—Andrew Carnegie, American industrialist and philanthropist
Below are the best known candidates for the Root of all Evil title, along with a libertarian explanation of why they are not the ultimate winners.
The Root of All Evil Is Money
“Money is the Root of All Evil” is a popular and persistent misquote since the original Bible passage is “love of money is the Root of All Evil” or variations similar to that. The Biblical indictment against money was squarely placed on the “love of” part of the citation, not on the “money” part itself. The Church, after all, wanted money as much as every other institution of power; they just wanted people not to love it so they would give more of it to The Church.
But even the “love of” part can be debunked by the libertarian non-aggression principle: Loving money, or loving anything, by itself harms no one and is therefore not evil. It is what’s actually done with the money that may be evil, but can also be loving and helpful and caring and productive and many other positive things as well.
There is nothing automatically “evil” about money itself or even loving money. Money, either as a physical object or an economic concept, cannot “make” anyone anything; It’s the choice of each individual that determines whether that individual is evil or not.
The Root of All Evil Is Greed
Is greed really the Root of All Evil? Many people have their own preferred definition of greed, typically along the lines of “you have more than I say you need” or “you won’t share what you have with me even though I didn’t earn it so you are greedy.”
Seldom do we ever hear a person say anything like “I have three dollars and you have only one and I’m not sharing one of my dollars with you so I admit that I’m greedy.”
Greed, in short, is almost always a subjective opinion. As someone once wrote in Yahoo Answers (recently stumbled upon): “greed is just a social term that means YOU think someone desires MORE than they should.”
Followers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy claim an objective, i.e., Objectivist, definition of greed boils down simply to “Greed is a desire for the unearned.” Of course simply “desiring” the unearned isn’t evil either since desire is simply a self-contained emotion, but acting on the desire to acquire the unearned is certainly evil.
Acting on greed is evil under the non-aggression principle because there are only three fundamental ways to acquire the things that people need or want: stealing them, earning them and accepting them as gifts. The first is a violation of one person by another while the second two are different forms of voluntarily exchanging values which violates no one.
And again, merely thinking about greed is neither evil nor the Root of All Evil. If it was then everyone who thinks, wonders or writes about greed is evil. It would mean that everyone reading this right now is automatically evil. Only acting on greed by initiating force, intimidation or fraud against another is evil. Only greed acted upon is evil.
The Root of All Evil Is Power
“Is the Love of 'Power' the Root of All Evil?” as an article by that headline asks? “The defining characteristic of those with a high need for power,” the article’s author states, “is the strong desire to have an impact on others—the bigger, the better.”
But again it isn’t the “love of” or “desire for” power that matters but the actual act of achieving and exercising power that matters. Power by itself can be used either for good or evil. Power that one person voluntarily grants to another—you give a surgeon power over you on the operating table for example—is palpably different than the power not voluntarily granted to another—such as a torturer having power over you on a torture rack.
So again power becomes evil based on the act rather than on any “love of” or “desire for” or “belief in” mental cogitations. And power of any kind—political, military, social, cultural, psychological, emotional, economic, etc., imposed involuntarily by some over others that consists of coercion, intimidation or fraud is certainly evil.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever.”―George Orwell, 1984
Note that it isn’t the “picture” or the “imagine” that is evil, but the actual act of “stamping.”
The Root of All Evil Is Capitalism
And now we come to that Roger Williams University professor and his stumbled upon 2014 article in the Providence Journal that links the prof’s name with his discovery right in the article’s headline:
“Stephan Brigidi: The root of all evil is American capitalism”
He begins accurately enough with “The great American free-enterprise, capitalist system was built upon the ideal of this country being the land of opportunity, where anyone could build something and fulfill a dream of making it in America.”
But then he, as virtually everyone else does, immediately conflates capitalism, free markets, free-enterprise, laissez-faire economics, business and corporations into one monolithic concept with no distinction between coercive and voluntary actions.
Aside from never mentioning the role of big government’s crony corporatism in today’s economic mess—libertarians would title their own article “The Root of All Evil is Government”—Brigidi says something amazingly hilarious about big business versus small business:
“How many mom and pops have been put down by the quest of the Walmart dynasty to conquer all, by offering the lowest possible prices to customers?”
Oh the horror! Offering the lowest possible prices to customers! How mean of them! What should they be doing? Cost markups? Over charging? Price-gouging? Profit maximizing? Fleecing consumers? Ripping off buyers?
And just how many mom and pops have been put down by these rapacious corporate dynasties?
The Root of All Evil Is Killing Mom and Pop
The next time you speed past a strip mall while barely noticing it, slow down and take inventory of the occupants: The donut shop, the hair stylist, the nail salon, the dry cleaners, the family eatery, the florist, the Tuxedo rental, the dog groomer, the antique dealer, the children’s dance studio, the martial arts dojo…
These are individually owned or family run operations created by small business entrepreneurs and creative self-motivated people of all races and genders and ethnic groups. These are your Mom and Pops. They can’t and don’t and won’t compete with the Walmarts of the world because they thrive by offering what the big box stores cannot: A location right in your own neighborhood, easy and convenient access, and a friendly personal touch.
And yet … other crafty, creative, innovative small business owners purposely locate near a Walmart, Target, Costco or other big box outlet specifically to take advantage of the major customer flow created by these behemoth corporate retailers.
Mom and Pop are a whole lot smarter than these capitalist-haters think they are.
But wait. Stephan Brigidi is both a capitalist-hater and a savvy, innovative, entrepreneurial Mom and Pop operation himself.
A 2014 Pacific Standard interview article described him this way: “For 40 years, Stephan Brigidi has been juggling: artistic and commercial photography, book publishing, teaching, and more, all to pay the bills and stay ahead of the bills” because he consciously chose to walk away from a tenure-track.
So why is he attacking and bemoaning the very kind of person that he chose to become? Why does he hate big corporations when it was those very corporations that created his camera, published his books and constructed the university buildings where he teaches?
Perhaps his strangest contradiction of all is when he attacks Amazon in his own article “The root of all evil is American capitalism” with this angry diatribe…
“Amazon has become a giant with a ceaseless appetite to devour all in its path by controlling all possible markets. Its gluttony knows no bounds, as it seeks to rise to the top of the heap in the name of real business, American-style.”
…yet his own book Angels of Pompeii is offered for sale on Amazon.
Maybe it’s explained when he says this: “I would love to be offered a tenure-track position today. That's a paradox. I could put in 10 years and know I'd have a regular paycheck.”
Paradox /ˈperəˌdäks/ noun A statement or proposition which, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems logically unacceptable or self-contradictory. Example: ‘the liar paradox’—Oxford Dictionary
Maybe Stephan Bridigi is just one of those seemingly endless numbers of people who cannot distinguish between the libertarian conception of a voluntary free market capitalism and a government manipulated coercive crony corporatism. So he, like so many others, sees capitalism rather than government, as the Root of All Evil.
Maybe for Stephan Bridigi “paradox” is his own personal Root of All Evil.
Links and References
Capitalism: The Prof’s Root of Evil in which he admits not knowing the difference between “capitalist” and “free enterprise” when he says “I dare say that greed, in the name of the American capitalist, free-enterprise system is the root of all problems in this country.”
Government—An Unnecessary Evil Every government everywhere is a coercive monopoly which has assumed power over and certain responsibilities for every human being within the geographical area which it claims as its own whether people want it or not.
The Unknown Ideal For those who can’t, don’t or won’t understand the different definitions of “capitalism” Ayn Rand explains that Laissez-faire capitalism is “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.”
Realities about Mom & Pop Among other things, 90% of US businesses are family owned; 24% have female CEOs; family businesses account for 78% of new jobs created in America and 64% of GPD; US family firms donate $50k per year…and more.