Analyzing Libertarian Arguments
First steps to analyzing libertarian arguments. Libertarian arguments literally make every fallacy of logic and informal fallacy of argument. After a while, it gets fairly easy to spot the problem in the arguments. Here are some of the major problems.
- Elevating rules of thumb to absolutes.
- Allowing ownership does not imply allowing unlimited ownership.
- Where are the tradeoffs?
- Very few arguments are about open and shut cases. Almost always, there are tradeoffs involved, and reasonable people can disagree on the conclusion because they have different values. What tradeoffs are left out? Which values are presumed to trump others? Given that disagreement cannot be resolved, how should the answer be decided? (Libertarians do NOT have a good answer for that.)
- How is the question loaded?
- "When did you stop beating your wife?" is the classic loaded question. It slides in a presumption of moral incorrectness. (See Shalizi example.) Loading can be accomplished with propaganda terms, dog-whistle terms, and a host of other indirect methods. The best response to loaded questions is to shame the questioner for his tactic.
- Does the argument pretend to logic?
If not, point out how unconvincing the illogical argument is. If it does pretend to logic, conservative and libertarian arguments almost always fail logically, with bad assumptions or clear fallacies. Nozick's pretend induction, for example.
- Does the argument start with the usual suspects?
- There are several very common false assumptions used by libertarians.
- economic man
- rational man
- markets work best
- government cannot work
- the problem does not exist
- there is a slippery slope
- Does the argument try to say what you think or believe?
- When it's not a deliberate tarbrushing, strawman or misrepresentation, it might be:
- psychological projection: "you have to have an ideology!"
- assuming that because you disagree with one thing, all your ideas are opposite. "If you oppose this freedom, you think everybody should be slaves!" Milton Friedman used this one: (paraphrased) "would you rather have mercenaries or slaves as soldiers?" (find a source)
- Does the argument ignore the diversity of existing alternatives?
- For example, criticisms of the US two party system little notice that multiparty systems in other nations hardly give different results.
- Is the argument a conspiracy theory?
- For example, if libertarians claim that you have been brainwashed by the state through its schools, it is easy to notice that there is no obvious "truth" coming from private schools or schools in other nations.
- Frank Chodorov: Scrappy Libertarian, Crappy Oracle [More...]
- An early libertarian exemplifies bad libertarian forms of argument that are continued today
- How to Quickly Prove a Libertarian Wrong [More...]
- 5 common talking points rapidly and clearly debunked.
- Seven principles for arguing with economists [More...]
- Some of the more common fallacious economics arguments, and how to counter them.
The ideology of radical libertarianism is both mistaken and harmful -- not least, to legitimate free expression in the service of truth. The error lies in exalting freedom "to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values.... In this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and 'being at peace with oneself'" There is no room for authentic community, the common good, and solidarity in this way of thinking.
Pontifical Council for Social Communications, "Ethics in Internet"
Ideology is the curse of public affairs because it converts politics into a branch of theology and sacrifices human beings on the thoughts of abstractions.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "Foreign Policy and The American Character"
Libertarians are a strange bunch. They are the most predictable of political thinkers since the answer to every social problem is the exact same thing: The cause of the problem is government and the solution is less government. Full stop.
John Jackson, "Frank Chodorov: Scrappy Libertarian, Crappy Oracle"
Libertarian capitalism... is a curious ideology in many ways... On the one hand, the sanctity of private property and private contracts is held to be a matter of inalienable natural right, guaranteed by the fundamental facts of morality, if not a basic part of Objective Reality; capitalism is the Right Thing to Do. On the other hand, much effort is devoted to arguing that unfettered laissez-faire capitalism is also the economic system which will produce the greatest benefit for the greatest number, indeed for all, if only people would just see it. Natural right therefore coincides exactly with personal interest. A clearer example of wishful thinking could hardly be asked for.
Cosima Shalizi, "Liberty! What Fallacies Are Committed in Thy Name!"
Ideology means taking some idea -- often legitimate in its own sphere -- to the extreme... Ideology offers certainty -- clear cut choices between good and evil, truth and falsehood. It pretends to have scientific answers to complex problems and holds out one easy standard to judge all cases. It thus relieves thinkers of the tedium involved in making difficult distinctions. In Procrustean fashion, ideologues cut facts to fit their ideas, rather than ideas to fit the facts. More often than not, their claims to science turn out to be little more than manipulative quackery.
Walter Adams and James Brock, "The Bigness Complex: Industry, Labor, and Government in the American Economy, Second Edition"