Free market capitalism has been, is, and likely always will be a staple of the Libertarian Party’s platform and, more generally, a key aspect of Libertarian political ideology. In the Libertarian Party’s 2018 platform publication, the Libertarian Party says as much in their Statement of Principles, which, for obvious reasons, is one of the best one-stop summaries for Libertarian ideology: “[People] should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.”
It is easy to forget with how often Libertarians openly defend a free market economy that other types of free markets exist which are equally as important. For instance, the free market of ideas is a concept that emerged only in relatively recent history, yet it is now a critical aspect of Libertarian philosophy. Its central tenet can be formulated like so: If all ideas are given equal opportunity to enter public discourse, the worst ideas will die out due to the inability to withstand harsh criticism, while the best ideas will remain defensible and flourish. This concept is key to the Libertarian defense of free speech and the denouncement of censorship, yet its importance is often overshadowed by that of a free market economy.
An inquiry into the importance of a free market of ideas is a topic for another discourse. This article shall instead seek to define and bring to light the importance of a third free market which is often overshadowed by that of the economy and that of ideas: a free market of cultures.
A Free Market of Cultures and Multiculturalism
First, it is important to define what exactly a free market of cultures does not denote, as one may be incorrectly but understandably lead to believe that it is simply a synonym for multiculturalism. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s definition of multiculturalism, refined to one sentence, reads as follows: “The term ‘multiculturalism’, however, has not been used only to describe a culturally diverse society, but also to refer to a kind of policy that aims at protecting cultural diversity.” There are two distinct parts to this definition: cultural diversity within a society, and the protection of cultural diversity within society through policy. While the former may coincide with Libertarian ideals, neither are necessitated by Libertarian Philosophy, and the latter is not Libertarian at all.
The manifestation of the first aspect of multiculturalism, aka the existence of cultural diversity within a society, is neither necessarily good, as the political left would have one believe, nor necessarily bad, as the political right would be more prone to purport. Or rather, it is both good and bad at the same time, depending on how one chooses to look at it. On one hand, a society that is culturally diverse is naturally more likely to have a greater variety of ideologies among its people due to a difference in lifestyles, allowing for more productive dialogue and the breeding of new, bright ideas. On the other, members of a culturally diverse society are also likely to have varying core values, which may generate conflict—potentially violent conflict.
Therefore, the second aspect of multiculturalism—creating a policy to enforce cultural diversity—is not necessarily a good thing, and as stated previously, it isn’t even Libertarian. The government has no business protecting dying cultures from extinction. Similarly, it has no right to enforce any one particular culture over any other. Culture is a domain of the people. Only the individual has the right to decide what cultural standards to adhere to, and only the individual has the obligation to adapt himself to that culture (or blend of cultures) which is most beneficial to him. This, then, is where a free market of cultures comes into play.
A Free Market of Cultures
Unlike multiculturalism, which is the co-existence of various cultures within a society (or policy aimed at defending such a co-existence), a free market of cultures is the space in which a society’s cultures exist free of government intervention. A good analogy to better understand this relationship is to think that a free market of cultures is to multiculturalism as a free market of ideas is to the diversity of thought. A free market of cultures is what allows multiple cultures to exist, but which also allows inefficient or disadvantageous cultures to die out in favor of better ones.
Protecting cultures simply for the sake of protecting cultures is not a good thing, despite what diversity advocates purport. And pushing what is believed to be a good culture is also not ideal, as such a method fails to keep up with changes in global and local environments. The transition toward a better reality is only maximized when not only ideas and capital but also cultures, are allowed to evolve in a free market. When a central body protects a dying culture from extinction, it leaves society clinging to a culture which doesn’t benefit anyone and would justly die if left on its own. Similarly, when such an entity pushes a single culture above all others, it becomes impossible for more efficient or beneficial cultures to flourish. None of which benefits society.
The counter to such a system where a central body gets to pick and choose cultural winners is none other than the free market of cultures: a place where the greatest cultures spread and develop and the worst cultures which are unable to adapt inevitably die away. This is the system by which society moves forward naturally, rather than being forced in a less than ideal direction. This is also the system Libertarians ought to defend, as it grants maximum freedom to the individual to decide for themselves what culture they want to be a part of. A free market of cultures is the best way forward, just as with free-market economies and free markets of ideas. Let the individual decide what is for the best—not the government.