As a libertarian who discovered the paleo
approach to health a couple of years ago, I’ve been pleasantly
surprised to find a solid contingent of libertarians in the paleo
community. I’ve come to call such people paleo-libertarians (the
hyphen distinguishes us from the paleolibertarians). Some of the
big names in the paleo movement are principled anti-statists, including
Kurt Harris, Richard
Nikoley, and Don Matesz.
Paleo is rapidly gaining popularity, and there are a growing
number of paleo-libertarians.
Paleos Against the State
In fact, the paleo health community is astonishingly libertarian,
if only unconsciously so. Of course, there are many statists, but
the libertarian presence is disproportionately large. Paleos generally
reserve a special hatred for the state. After all, the state and
its allies in academia and industry are spreading deadly health
advice that is responsible for the bulk of disease and obesity,
and it continues to do so in the face of a growing mountain of evidence
contradicting it. It should have been obvious from the start that
the conventional wisdom was bogus – it totally contradicts
evolutionary biology. The conventional recommendation to avoid red
meat and animal fat, for example, flies in the face of over 2 million
years of evolutionary adaptation to eating animals (the whole animal,
including all of the fat). The recommendations to eat grains and
vegetable oils are also suspect – grains were only introduced
into the human diet about 10,000 years ago, and vegetable oils haven’t
even existed for more than a century. The state’s health
advice is not only wrong, but directly harmful to health. That makes
the state responsible for an unfathomable amount of misery and death.
For paleos, this elicits a deep mistrust in the state – how
can they trust that the state doesn’t screw up this badly in anything
else it does?
Government As Usual
In his paradigm-shifting book, Good
Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes explains how government
involvement in the field of public health distorted the science
to the point that it can hardly be called science anymore. In the
1970s, government agencies driven by political motives began promoting
low-fat diets on the basis of very weak evidence. Researchers soon
found it difficult to receive government funding if they challenged
the official position. This spawned the low-fat dogma that is still
with us today, despite being an utter dead-end. Taubes shows that
the low-fat diet was a complete failure, providing zero benefit
and causing substantial harm. He stresses that the diseases of civilization
– heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, hypertension, and
many more – are practically non-existent in primitive populations
until they adopt western foods. They are completely optional
diseases which develop due to chronic bad nutrition. The state has
been a major force in shifting the diet away from that paleolithic
staple – animal flesh – and towards such health hazards
as grains and vegetable oils. Thus, the state deserves a large portion
of the blame for the high incidence of the diseases of civilization.
This is precisely what libertarian theory would predict –
government activity having unintended negative consequences. Libertarians
are well aware that scientists are fallible and that science can
be distorted by politics – economics and climatology being
the paradigm examples. William Butos has developed
an economic analysis of government interventions in science.
He concludes that government activity disrupts the spontaneous order
of the academic community to the detriment of scientific progress.
So there is every reason to expect that the sciences of nutrition
and disease, deeply infested with government involvement, will be
riddled with errors. Chris
Masterjohn’s article about the government’s war on cholesterol
is a good example of this. Taubes, an acclaimed science writer,
is not exaggerating one bit when he concludes that "the study
of nutrition, chronic disease, and obesity" has become "an
enterprise…that purports to be a science and yet functions like
There are several interesting connections between paleo health
and libertarianism. What I call the "Austrian connection"
was uncovered by Gary Taubes in his research on the study of obesity.
He found that the Austrian-German researchers had worked out the
basics of fat metabolism prior to WW2. But the war broke up their
research community, and the negative associations with Austria and
Germany after the war swept their research out of sight in the international
community. From there, the American researchers started from scratch
but were led astray by the simplistic caloric balance hypothesis.
To this day, the long forgotten pre-war Austrian-German theories
on fat metabolism remain superior to the mainstream theories. The
parallel with Austrian economics is striking: it too was driven
underground by the war, and it too remains superior to mainstream
Paleo and libertarianism also share similarities on the theoretical
level. Both are based on the logic of spontaneous or unplanned order.
Paleos recognize that humans are products of evolution and are adapted
to the conditions of the evolutionary environment. Libertarians
recognize that markets are far superior to government for bringing
about social cooperation and coordination. Both emphasize that we
deviate from these complex orders at our peril. As a result, both
hold simple principles as solutions to entire categories of problems.
Paleos hold the Paleolithic
Principle as the solution to virtually all health problems and
as the key to optimal health. Libertarians hold the Non-Aggression
Principle as the solution to virtually all social problems and as
the key to prosperity.
Finally, paleo and libertarianism share a common bond in individualism.
Both value personal responsibility and oppose government paternalism,
wanting nothing from the government except to be left alone. Both
recognize that nothing good can come from using the political means
to further their cause.
Why Paleo Matters
The paleo health movement is growing at a spectacular pace, mainly
because it is soundly rooted in the evolutionary logic and simply
because it works so well. People with all sorts of ailments are
"going paleo" to effortlessly
cure what the entire medical establishment has failed to prevent
or treat. As the state invades and destroys the healthcare market,
it is becoming ever more important to stay healthy and avoid dependence
on the medical apparatus. And for those libertarians who want to
live to see a free society, paleo health offers the surest way to
achieve Misesian longevity. It saddens paleo-libertarians that Murray
Rothbard was struck down by a disease of civilization at the young
age of 68. It is important that libertarians do their best to avoid
such a fate – the libertarian cause is too important.
Given the many connections between the two, I think there is much
to gain from paleo-libertarian integration. Paleos gain a theoretical
understanding of how the "experts" can all get it wrong
when science becomes politicized. More importantly, they gain an
understanding of the root cause of the problem – government
– and the ultimate solution – liberty. Paleos would greatly
benefit from free markets: insurance companies would offer incentives
for staying healthy, and there would be no subsidies propping up
harmful foods nor regulations hindering healthy foods. Libertarians
gain personally in terms of health and longevity. They also add
another potent argument to the already formidable case against the
state. And of course, both benefit by expanding their sphere of
influence. Here’s to paleo-libertarianism: no grains, no government!