What Does a Libertarian Vision of Utopia Look Like?

Libertarian Vision of Utopia

In the first episode recorded during the COVID-19 quarantine, (Episode 30: Visions of Liberty) Ideas in Progress host Dr. Anthony Comegna spoke to Aaron Ross Powell, director and editor of the Cato Institute’s libertarianism.org, and Dr. Paul Matzko, assistant editor for technology and innovation. Powell and Dr. Matzko were editors of the recently published set of essays Visions of Liberty.

Dr. Paul Matzko
Aaron Ross Powell

The Cato Institute’s libertarianism.org is a project that explores the underlying ideas of the libertarian tradition and classical liberal ideas. It’s where readers can dive deeper into the concepts of libertarianism and gain an understanding of the people who have informed it.

“We have an opportunity to do something that a lot of DC think tanks don’t have the . . . time or mental space to do, which is to imagine something bigger, different, more long-term, and even more optimistic,” Dr. Matzko said.

With Building Tomorrow, a Cato Institute podcast that focuses on technology and the future, it has a more optimistic lean to it. Technology, Dr. Matzko said, doesn’t necessarily mean artificial intelligence or self-driving cars. The assembly line, factory, and family unit are all considered technology.

What could the future look like if we pursue liberty across all these different venues of life?

–Dr. Paul Matzko

While libertarian policymaking could often be viewed as negative as it may involve stopping more than starting government activities, Powell said, the underlying motivation for making these claims is formed from a hopeful vision about the possibilities of what could be achieved.

[As libertarians], we think it’s morally correct to respect rights and that’s not dependent on how people are going to use them . . . we think that when people’s rights are respected, and they can do things that they want to do, they will do overwhelmingly great things that will benefit other people.

–Aaron Ross Powell

This new book, Visions of Liberty, is part of their effort in trying to cast an optimistic version of the future that is more possible and grounded in better policy. The writers of these essays were given the opportunity to describe their wish list of policy changes that would be achieved in their utopia, within their area of expertise in policy.

There are a range of policy areas covered in these essays. Much like how all political ideological groups have a spectrum of perspectives, this collection too holds a range of ideas.

“Do you think that the only value of utopianism is suggesting these kinds of alternatives,” Dr. Comegna asked, “or is there something else to it that is worth engaging in what’s usually thought of as a pretty front term, utopia?”

All social movements engage in utopianism, Dr. Matzko said. Having a profound vision of the future is what helps these movements build followings. Libertarianism could be viewed as a reaction to the failed proposed utopias of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and attempting to envisage a different future.

There are two roles that Powell sees utopianism can play.

The first is, given a set of circumstances we have now, where do we think we’ll end up? And what’s the best possible version of where we might end up? . . . The other way to think about the role of utopianism is that you’re saying: “Okay, let me imagine the best possible world. And then I can use that as a guiding light for what I, and our society, and our politics do now.”

–Aaron Ross Powell

Visions of Liberty is available for free digitally through libertarianism.org, which includes an essay by Ideas in Progress host Dr. Comegna.

For the full episode, visit SoundCloudiTunes, or Stitcher. Each Wednesday, we release new episodes from our Ideas in Progress podcast on divisive topics with contemporary thinkers.

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