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Libertarian transhumanism is a political ideology synthesizing libertarianism and transhumanism. Self-identified libertarian transhumanists, such as Ronald Bailey of Reason magazine and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, are advocates of the asserted "right to human enhancement" who argue that the free market is the best guarantor of this right, claiming that it produces greater prosperity and personal freedom than other economic systems. Another notable proponent of this philosophy was Timothy Leary.
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Libertarian transhumanists believe that the principle of self-ownership is the most fundamental idea from which both libertarianism and transhumanism stem. They are rational egoists and ethical egoists who embrace the prospect of using emerging technologies to enhance human capacities, which they believe stems from the self-interested application of reason and will in the context of the individual freedom to achieve a posthuman state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. They extend this rational and ethical egoism to advocate a form of "biolibertarianism".
As strong civil libertarians, libertarian transhumanists hold that any attempt to limit or suppress the asserted right to human enhancement is a violation of civil rights and civil liberties. However, as strong economic libertarians, they also reject proposed public policies of government-regulated and -insured human enhancement technologies, which are advocated by democratic transhumanists, because they fear that any state intervention will steer or limit their choices.
Extropianism, the earliest current of transhumanist thought defined in 1988 by philosopher Max More, initially included an anarcho-capitalist interpretation of the concept of "spontaneous order" in its principles, which states that a free market economy achieves a more efficient allocation of societal resources than any planned or mixed economy could achieve. In 2000, while revising the principles of Extropy, More seemed to be abandoning libertarianism in favor of modern liberalism and anticipatory democracy. However, many Extropians remained libertarian transhumanists.
Critiques of the techno-utopianism of libertarian transhumanists from progressive cultural critics include Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron's 1995 essay The Californian Ideology; Mark Dery's 1996 book Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century; and Paulina Borsook's 2000 book Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech.
Barbrook argues that libertarian transhumanists are proponents of the Californian Ideology who embrace the goal of reactionary modernism: economic growth without social mobility. According to Barbrook, libertarian transhumanists are unwittingly appropriating the theoretical legacy of Stalinist communism by substituting, among other concepts, the “vanguard party” with the “digerati”, and the “new Soviet man” with the “posthuman”. Dery coined the dismissive phrase “body-loathing” to describe the attitude of libertarian transhumanists and those in the cyberculture who want to escape from their “meat puppet” through mind uploading into cyberspace. Borsook asserts that libertarian transhumanists indulge in a subculture of selfishness, elitism and escapism.
Sociologist James Hughes is the most militant critic of libertarian transhumanism. While articulating “democratic transhumanism” as a sociopolitical program in his 2004 book Citizen Cyborg, Hughes sought to convince libertarian transhumanists to embrace social democracy by arguing that:
- State action is required to address catastrophic threats from transhumanist technologies;
- Only believable and effective public policies to prevent adverse consequences from new technologies will reassure skittish publics that they do not have to be banned;
- Social policies must explicitly address public concerns that transhumanist biotechnologies will exacerbate social inequality;
- Monopolistic practices and overly restrictive intellectual property law can seriously delay the development of transhumanist technologies, and restrict their access;
- Only a strong liberal democratic state can ensure that posthumans are not persecuted; and
- Libertarian transhumanists (who are anti-naturalists) are inconsistent in arguing for the free market on the grounds that it is a natural phenomenon.
Klaus-Gerd Giesen, a German political scientist specializing in the philosophy of technology, wrote a critique of the libertarianism he imputes to all transhumanists. While pointing out that the works of Austrian School economist Friedrich Hayek figure in practically all of the recommended reading lists of Extropians, he argues that transhumanists, convinced of the sole virtues of the free market, advocate an unabashed inegalitarianism and merciless meritocracy which can be reduced in reality to a biological fetish. He is especially critical of their promotion of a science-fictional liberal eugenics, virulently opposed to any political regulation of human genetics, where the consumerist model presides over their ideology. Giesen concludes that the despair of finding social and political solutions to today's sociopolitical problems incites transhumanists to reduce everything to the hereditary gene, as a fantasy of omnipotence to be found within the individual, even if it means transforming the subject (human) to a new draft (posthuman).
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- Hughes, James (2001). "The Politics of Transhumanism". Retrieved 2007-01-26.
- Istvan, Zoltan (5 May 2014). "Transhumanists and Libertarians Have Much in Common". Huffington Post. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Bailey, Ronald (2005). Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case For the Biotech Revolution. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-59102-227-4.
- Reynolds, Glenn (2006). An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 1-59555-054-2.
- Carrico, Dale (2005). "Bailey on the CybDemite Menace". Retrieved 2006-02-05.
- Bailey, Ronald (2009). "Transhumanism and the Limits of Democracy". Retrieved 2009-05-01.
- Barbrook, Richard; Cameron, Andy (2000). "The Californian Ideology". Retrieved 2007-02-06.
- Barbrook, Richard (2007). "Cyber-Communism: How the Americans Are Superseding Capitalism in Cyberspace". Retrieved 2009-05-21.
- Dery, Mark (1996). Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century. Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3520-X.
- Borsook, Paulina (2000). Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1-891620-78-9.
- Hughes, James (2004). Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-4198-1.
- Giesen, Klaus-Gerd (2004). "Transhumanisme et génétique humaine". Retrieved 2006-04-26.