Fallacies Of Ideology
An ideology is a form of philosophy whose primary goal is to proselytize taking an idea to the extreme. Most libertarian writing is written by believers, not dispassionate examiners, and is written to promote the ideology.
To put it bluntly, most ideological writing is philosophical bullshit. That is a technical philosophical term, believe it or not. In short, the bullshitter does not care about the truth of what he is saying: he is concerned with other effects. In the case of ideology, the important effects are creating doubt in existing beliefs and creating or affirming belief in the ideology. Thus all the tools of rhetoric, propaganda and public relations are employed.
- Self ownership.
- Most libertarians presume self-ownership, but there is no good philosophy backing it.
- Presuming few goods.
- Most ideologies are founded upon few ideas of the good, such as "liberty" or "property" or "God". This creates a monotonic measure of good and bad that leads to extremism. In real life, most people have many ideas of what is good, for example Isaiah Berlin's octet: liberty and equality, spontaneity and security, happiness and knowledge, mercy and justice. No political philosophy is worth considering unless it is BALANCING many competing goods both of individuals and between individuals. Libertarians tend to presume liberty and property as the measure of good and bad. They scoff at people with different values.
- Exalting the few goods above all others.
- This fallacy is easily understood by means of the Why the asshole is the most important organ joke, which is derived from Aesop's the stomach and the body fable. Libertarians exalt liberty and property, just as Christians exalt their biblical morality and Marxists exalt the proletariat. All have their merits, and if somehow any one of them was to be completely eliminated, we would be worse off. But none of them are unitary. (This part is weakly presented, needs rethinking and restatement.)
- Pretending that the few goods do not conflict.
- This provides mysteries for the faithful to focus upon, providing internal repetition of the ideas so necessary for belief. We see such pretend mysteries in Catholic doctrines such as the three in one god. Libertarians pretend that liberty and property do not conflict, despite the fact that property restricts liberty of all the non-owners. This gives huge opportunity for repetition of the ideological fundamentals (necessary to propaganda) in the course of the inevitable disagreements on how to harmonize the apparent conflicts. That is why libertarianism is so schismatic despite the proclaimed unity of fundamentals, much as in Christianity. That is why G. A Cohen can come to radically opposite conclusions to right-libertarianism, starting with the same fundamentals, in his Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality.
- Ignoring joint production.
- The vast majority of economic production is jointly produced. It is only by ignoring this fact that libertarians can pretend that producers (such as entrepreneurs) deserve the full amount of money they can extract.
- 11 questions to see if libertarians are hypocrites [More...]
- "But the libertarian movement has seen a strong resurgence in recent years, and there’s a simple reason for that: money, and the personal interests of some people who have a lot of it... This revival is Koch-fueled, not coke-fueled, and exists only because in political debate, as in so many other walks of life, cash is king."
- Analyzing Libertarian Arguments (15 links)
- 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.
- Anarchism: Liberal Threat or Liberal Critique? [More...]
- Basic problems of anarchism, whether anarcho-capitalist or leftist.
- Are Economists Ideologically Biased? [More...]
- Economists like to think they’re immune from ideological influence. New research shows otherwise.
- Ayn Rand was not a libertarian
- Yes she was. Her minarchist splinter sect (Objectivism) was distinguished by different pretentious bullshit philosophy, but nothing else. She hated other libertarians because they were rivals who dared to disagree with her, the same as happens in any other frequently schismatic cult religion or philosophy.
- Bullshit and Philosophy: Guaranteed to Get Perfect Results Every Time (book)
- Capitalism is the best economic system ever devised. (Not!)
- A remarkable propaganda statement that relies on the vagueness of "best", doesn't say which variant of capitalism, and requires you to overlook the fact that capitalism must necessarily be only a part of real economic systems (which include family and government production and exchange.)
- Conspiracy Theories (7 links)
- Libertarians frequently attempt to refute common knowledge (and scientific knowledge) with conspiracy theories. This is because such knowledge often conflicts with their ideology, and the cognitive dissonance must be somehow reconciled.
- Derp (3 links)
- A determined belief in some doctrine that is completely unmovable by evidence.
- False Dichotomies of Libertarian Ideology
- Libertarianism is built on false dichotomies, because they provide the simplicity necessary to propaganda. Modeling the real world accurately usually requires more sophistication.
- Filters (1 link)
- A really common ideological fallacy is to look at a person or work and claim it for libertarianism because you spotted a few similarities to libertarian ideology. Ridiculous examples include Harry Potter, the Bible, etc. This requires obliviousness to obvious non-libertarian aspects.
- Government is only violence: it doesn't produce anything. Not. (2 links)
- A common libertarian ideological claim attempting to persuade you to overlook all defense, schools, infrastructure, research and other products of government. See also: State monopoly on violence.
- Greedy Reductionism (3 links)
- A philosophical crime of trying to explain too much with a single principle. Typical of almost all libertarianism.
- Historical Revisionism (75 links)
- The facts of history do not support libertarianism. This spawns an industry supplying libertarians with false history that supports their beliefs.
- I am the one true libertarian! (1 link)
- A convenient stance for dismissing any examples you don't like as not being truly libertarian. As the one true libertarian, you get to reject whatever is convenient for your argument.
- Just Deserts (7 links)
- A philosophically unsubstantiated claim that people deserve their market competition outcome. Based on unsupportable premises that compelling people into market interactions is just and that the competitions themselves are just. Sometimes spelled "just desserts".
- Libertarian Self-Delusions (21 links)
- Libertarians believe many weird things about themselves compared to others. Many are splendid examples of the Dunning–Kruger effect. See also: Derp.
- Libertarianism Makes You Stupid [More...]
- After 20 years, still one of the shortest, clearest explanations of the fundamental errors of libertarian rhetoric.
- Libertarians are neither right wing nor left wing. (5 links)
- Libertarians are simply pragmatic conservatives who have a moral focus on non-interference by the government, according to George Lakoff. That makes them solid right wingers.
- Libertarians, Conservatives and Human Nature [More...]
- Eddie SantoPrieto points out that libertarian (and especially objectivist) models of humans are grossly at odds with anthropological science.
- Manichean Thinking (1 link)
- All good comes from the market, all evil comes from government. This leads to lots of ridiculous accusations, such as all market failures coming from government interference with markets.
- Markets do it better and cheaper than government. Not. (1 link)
- A common propaganda claim from Milton Friedman. Patently untrue for a number of market failures. An additional problem is that the products would be different, sometimes in undesirable ways, because markets have no incentive to create positive externalities
- On Bullshit (book)
- "[B]ullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant."
- Positive Alternatives To Libertarian Ideas (7 links)
- Many libertarian ideas are based on unrealistic axioms, theories, whims and other products of the imagination, unconstrained by the reality we all observe or know through history. Good ideas ought to be based on reality, rather than needing defence from reality. Another alternative is that their scope can be constrained by reality.
- Risk (3 links)
- Libertarians frequently ignore the problem of risks to pretend that liberties, "victimless crimes" and unregulated industries have no externalities.
- Seeing Like a Communist [More...]
- The viewpoint of communists and why that differs from that of libertarians. Lots of good things, such as: "It’s a childish delusion that you just so happen to live in the only civilization without propaganda."
- Single principles of Libertarianism
- Libertarians have a dazzling array of conflicting and irrational single principles that they use to define their ideology. There are all examples of Greedy Reductionism. There are many, many one-line descriptions such as "no initiation of force or fraud", but there are major problems with such descriptions. First, all such examples are heavily value-laden: ideas of "initiation", "force", and "fraud" vary greatly even among libertarians. Second, as libertarian David Friedman points out, such simple rules may dictate results that even libertarians find grossly undesirable.
- Taxation Is Slavery (1 link)
- A common libertarian theme, that interprets taxation of X% as slavery of X% of your time. The easy response is that you can emigrate: something slaves, serfs, peons and other chattel are not permitted. There is also a ridiculous "Lost Cause"/Sovereign Citizens theme that the 14th Amendment made all of us slaves to the federal government.
- Taxation Is Theft (20 links)
- A prize libertarian slogan that ignores facts of pre-existing ownership by government. Because government owns its territory, it gets to make rules like any other owner. See: A Non-Libertarian FAQ: 5.5 Taxation is theft. Taxation is also the price we pay for being part of a society. Libertarians want a free lunch from society, but conveniently forget the TANSTAAFL dictum that David Friedman likes to recite: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. If you want to be free of society, go ahead and be a hermit.
- The "No True Libertarianism" fallacy [More...] (1 link)
- This is a variation of the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, used to dismiss inconvenient examples. Libertarians cannot explain why there has never been a libertarian society, and find excuses to explain that existing small governments are not "true libertarianism". The real reason is that libertarianism, like communism, is contrary to human nature.
- The Basic Income Guarantee and Tautological Libertarianism [More...]
- "Of course, right-libertarians tell us that they defend property rights because they believe in freedom. Now we see that they’re simply defining freedom as the defense of the property rights system they want to see."
- The Capitalist or Socialist Dichotomy (2 links)
- Most arguments comparing capitalist states to socialist states are stupid because no state is purely one or the other. Nor do capitalism and socialism exhaust the possibilities for economic policies.
- The Handmaiden of Entrepreneurship: Philosophy in the time of Charles Koch [More...]
- David Johnson reviews a Koch-funded textbook for high school students, Ethics, Economy & Entrepreneurship for a course called "Philosophy 101: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship". "What I found was a peculiar mixture of the utterly banal and the frighteningly ideological."
- There's no such thing as society… only individuals and families. (5 links)
- This famous Margaret Thatcher quote is philosophical twaddle. The same principle then applies to government, corporations, religions, etc. It is based on the unscientific and fallacious claim that individuals are the only valid level of analysis, common to the methodological individualism of Austrian Economics.
- Top 10 Libertarian Lies [More...]
- "They don’t hate government or love freedom, and their propaganda sucks... While libertarians are hardly a monolithic group, I believe that this list provides the most common fictions that American libertarians frequently spout. Let us bury them, once and for all."
- Top Atheist Quotes [More...]
- Because religions are ideologies (like libertarianism), many of these quotes can apply to libertarianism with zero or little modification.
- Tyranny (5 links)
- Especially tyranny of the majority. Libertarians miss a number of obvious points here. Tyranny of a minority is worse. And there are other sources of tyranny than government, which are less accountable, such as social and market tyranny. The basic problem is that tyranny is a subjective viewpoint, and libertarians are just as susceptible to that accusation when somebody does not want to live in a libertarian society. An involuntary property system can easily be viewed as tyrannical.
- Underpants Gnomes (2 links)
- A South Park idea satirizing wishful thinking about incomplete plans and explanations.
- What Libertarians don’t understand [More...]
- "And that’s the reason why many of us just can’t debate some libertarians, because they have this double standard: If they like the law personally, it’s fine but if they don’t like it, they are being forced to obey it and that’s just evil!"
- What’s the Matter With Libertarianism? [More...]
- "Its models of human nature and society are terminally deficient."
[...] the central analytical failure of libertarianism as a worldview: a total and disqualifying inability to measure or account for power as it exists in the real world.
Freddie deBoer, "Brief insights into the libertarian mind"
[A blind spot]... a simply weird refusal to acknowledge the huge role played by money and monetary incentives promoting bad ideas.
Paul Krugman, "Conservative Intellectuals: Follow the Money"
One cannot overstate the childishness of the ideas that feed and stir the masses. Real ideas must as a rule be simplified to the level of a child's understanding if they are to arouse the masses to historic actions. A childish illusion, fixed in the minds of all children born in a certain decade and hammered home for four years, can easily reappear as a deadly serious political ideology twenty years later.
Sebastian Haffner, "Defying Hitler: A Memoir", pg. 17.
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"
The non-consensual constraints on conduct recognized by libertarians are quite extensive. Our duties to respect the lives and the physical integrity of others' persons, and their freedom of action and extensive property claims, our obligations to keep our contracts, avoid fraud, and make reparations for harms we cause, are not based in free choice, consent, or any kind of agreement (actual or hypothetical). These are natural rights and duties, libertarians claim, that people possess independent of social interaction. Despite their emphasis on consent, voluntariness, and contract, libertarians are averse to appeals to consent or social agreement to justify their preferred list of moral rights and duties.
Samuel Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View" pg. 125
The key to understanding this, and to understanding Libertarianism itself, is to realize that their concept of individual freedom is the "whopper" of "right to have the State back up business". That's a wild definition of freedom.
Seth Finkelstein, "Libertarianism Makes You Stupid"
Libertarians are for "individual rights", and against "force" and "fraud" - just as THEY define it. Their use of these words, however, when examined in detail, is not likely to accord with the common meanings of these terms.
Seth Finkelstein, "Libertarianism Makes You Stupid"
The essential unifying idea in this core of libertarian ideology is that the existence of rights and the propriety of liberty are either obvious, or matters of faith, or sufficiently explained by the word “natural”; accordingly, deeper moral or philosophic arguments in support of them are unnecessary. Why provide philosophic arguments for that which people can know by just opening their eyes, or closing their eyes, or waving their hands and saying “natural”? The fact is that people do not and cannot know anything about the nature of rights or the propriety of liberty by such means.
Craig Biddle, "Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism"
The only self-evident fact about rights is that rights are not self-evident.
Craig Biddle, "Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism"
The weak logic and bad scholarship that suffuse libertarian responses to my article tend to reinforce me in my view that, if they were not paid so well to churn out anti-government propaganda by plutocrats like the Koch brothers and various self-interested corporations, libertarians would play no greater role in public debate than do the followers of Lyndon LaRouche or L. Ron Hubbard.
Michael Lind, "Libertarianism’s Apocryphal Past"
The problem is that libertarian principles, which revolve [around] the abstract notion of self-interest, are really not principles at all; they have no content and allow anything to be attached to them. Abstract self-interest alone can provide no instructive rule of thought and can disqualify no particular course of action, because each person is free to concoct what is in their best interest, and because “aggression” can be and has been defined in a variety of spurious ways.
John Ganz, "Libertarians have more in common with the alt-right than they want you to think"
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!"
… Economic doctrines always come to us as propaganda. This is bound up with the very nature of the subject and to pretend that it is not so in the name of ‘pure science’ is a very unscientific refusal to accept the facts.
Joan Robinson, in Marx, Marshall And Keynes
I have always aimed to make my own prejudices sufficiently obvious to allow a reader, while studying the argument, to discount them as he thinks fit, though of course, this generally leads a reader of opposite prejudices to reject the argument in advance …
Joan Robinson, in Marx, Marshall And Keynes
Neoliberalism and its customary remedies -- always more markets, always less government -- are in fact a perversion of mainstream economics. Good economists know that the correct answer to any question in economics is: it depends.
Dani Rodrik, "Rescuing Economics from Neoliberalism"
There is nothing wrong with markets, private entrepreneurship, or incentives -- when deployed appropriately. Their creative use lies behind the most significant economic achievements of our time. As we heap scorn on neoliberalism, we risk throwing out some of neoliberalism's useful ideas. The real trouble is that mainstream economics shades too easily into ideology, constraining the choices that we appear to have and providing cookie-cutter solutions.
Dani Rodrik, "Rescuing Economics from Neoliberalism"
Similarly, those selling an ideology also take advantage of antiscience conspiracy theories, and vice-versa. In other words, many conspiracy theories are tactical. In other words, the origin of some conspiracy theories is not genuinely held erroneous beliefs, but rather they are the result of an intentional campaign of disinformation designed to produce a political or ideological end... Conservative free market fundamentalists, who abhor anything that would justify a larger role for government or increased government regulation, are more than happy to spread the conspiracy theory behind climate science denial.
David Gorski, "Science denial: A form of conspiracy theory"
As for whether I’m ideological, I don’t need ideology to rebut your arguments. Your ideology is YOUR weakness. It provides you with a bountiful supply of ready-made errors to spare you the pain of rubbing your own two brain cells together to come up with an original idea. Your ideology necessarily makes stuff up and ignores the real world where it is inconvenient. I don’t need ideology to spot such lies and omissions.
Mike Huben, in comments for "Taxation Is Not Theft"
In its own way, the "No True Libertarianism" argument is very similar to the "No True Communism" of those on the far left, who argue that the fault of Communism lies not with the idea, but with the practice--despite the fact that no successful large-scale Communism has ever been implemented in the world. Neither ideology can fail its adherents. They can only be failed by imperfect practitioners. Both ideologies run counter to human nature for the same reason: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
David Atkins, "The "No True Libertarianism" fallacy"
[T]here is a sub-culture of libertarian "philosophers" and scholars that have their own "institutes" and meet regularly at conferences around the world... This alternate universe is comprised principally of economists and scholars from third-rate colleges and state universities whose "theories" were generally ignored....
David Vickrey, "The (Sick) Mind Of Hans-Hermann Hoppe"
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"
Let us clear from the ground the metaphysical or general principles upon which, from time to time, laissez-faire has been founded. It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive 'natural liberty' in their economic activities. There is no 'compact' conferring perpetual rights on those who Have or on those who Acquire. The world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide. It is not so managed here below that in practice they coincide. It is not a correct deduction from the principles of economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are too ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately.
John Maynard Keynes, "The end of laissez-faire"
Many entrepreneurs hold the opinion that “I did it all on my own,” which may be well adapted to leadership success in certain situations, but it is objectively myopic. The entrepreneur relies on an ecosystem of venture capitalists, risk-taking purchasers, and so on. This ecosystem itself rests on a deeper foundation of collective, government-led enterprise. The delivery of our software, for example, depended on the existence of the Internet, which is the product of a series of government-sponsored R&D efforts, in combination with subsequent massive private commercial development. Government funding has been essential to much of the university science that entrepreneurs have exploited. Honest courts and police are required for functioning capital markets and protection of assets; physical infrastructure is required for the roads and running water without which we would not spend much time thinking about artificial intelligence software. At the absolute foundation, national armed forces protect the whole system against external aggression. All of our exciting technical and economic innovations ultimately require men to stand watch all night looking through Starlight scopes mounted on assault rifles—and die if necessary—to protect our commercial, law-bound society. Would you do this to protect a billionaire hedge-fund manager who sees his country as nothing more than lines on a map?
Jim Manzi, "Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society"
To my knowledge, all libertarian philosophers (except Conway), from Hayek to Nozick to James Buchanan to lesser-known writers such as Antony Flew and Tibor Machan, reject the positive-libertarian alternative, preferring to rely on the claim that only negative liberty is “real” liberty. It may be surprising that, 700 years after the collapse of Scholasticism, there should still be philosophers who assume that there are “correct” and “incorrect” definitions of words. But it would be a mistake to underestimate how important to libertarian philosophy is the conviction that only negative liberty captures the “essence” of the word liberty. Even if negative liberty is “true” liberty (and even if liberty is intrinsically valuable), however, this cannot constitute an argument for libertarianism without the further assumption that negative liberty is either uniquely or relatively embodied in libertarianism. The assumption that liberty is embodied in libertarianism relatively more than in other systems is necessarily false, however -- unless we are speaking of positive liberty -- since, as we have seen, there is no difference in the amount of negative liberty afforded people by libertarianism and by competing systems of property law.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With Libertarianism" pg. 431.
Despite the intelligence of many of its supporters, libertarianism is an instance of the simplest (and therefore silliest) type of politics: the single-villain ideology. Everything is blamed on the government.
Mark Rosenfelder, "What's wrong with libertarianism (Rosenfelder)"
One problem with this (utopian) model is we now have overwhelming evidence that the individualistic, acquisitive, selfish-gene model of human nature is seriously deficient; it is simplistic, one-sided, and in reality, resembles the pathological extremes among the personality traits that we find in our society. The evidence about human evolution indicates that our species evolved in small, close-knit social groups in which cooperation and sharing overrode our individual, competitive self-interests for the sake of the common good. We evolved as intensely interdependent social animals, and our sense of empathy toward others, our sensitivity to reciprocity, our desire for inclusion and our loyalty to the groups we bond with, the intrinsic satisfaction we derive from cooperative activities, and our concern for having the respect and approval of others all evolved in humankind to temper and constrain our individualistic, selfish impulses (as Darwin himself pointed out in The Descent of Man).
Peter Corning, "What’s the Matter With Libertarianism?"
Indeed, libertarians generally have no model of society as an interdependent group with a common purpose and common interests. For instance, the canonized conservative economist Friedrich Hayek posited a stark choice between two alternative models—either a "free market" of atomized individuals rationally pursuing their self-interests in transactional relationships or an authoritarian, coercive "state" that seeks control over us.
Peter Corning, "What’s the Matter With Libertarianism?"
There are just a lot of people out there exerting significant influence over the political debate who are totally unqualified. The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply. Hence the intellectual marketplace for arguments that we should tax rich people less is glutted with hackery.
Jonathan Chait, "Why I’m So Mean"