Critiques Of Libertarianism

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The subject of this site is right-wing libertarianism: in the broad, poorly defined colloquial sense which includes Objectivism, neoliberalism, classical liberalism and a host of other ill-defined variants. All are united by a rhetoric of liberty, bad philosophy and fallacious "free market" claims of various sorts. The Koch brothers and their ilk have been pushing this harmful political theory for around 60 years with vast amounts of money, and have captured the Republican party.

This subject does not include left libertarianism nor civil libertarianism: they have very different origins and philosophies.

This wiki has roughly 3000 content pages of which 1800 have external links and 500 are books; more are added very frequently. See Special:MostLinkedCategories for the current numbers. The first incarnation of this site was established 10/25/94.

The long main page has expanded categories which provides a better overview, but it takes a while to load. This is the short, fast main page.


Basics (10 links)
Some basics of discussing libertarianism.
Ideology (26 links)
The ideological universe of libertarians: how to view them with less distortion from propaganda.
Criticism (12 links)
Libertarianism is criticized strongly by all sides, including libertarians themselves, for an amazing number of reasons.
Issues (53 links)
There are a large number of issues that libertarians perennially raise.
Libertarians (17 links)
Notable libertarians.
Organizations (14 links)
Libertarian organizations, most of which are either elite or astroturf.
Economics (41 links)
Libertarians love to claim that their philosophy is backed by economics. While it is true that a number of famous economists have been libertarian, the more economics seems to back libertarianism, the less it resembles science and the more it resembles propaganda. The vast majority of libertarians who actually learn some economics learn either Austrian Economics or Chicago Economics. Those conflict so seriously that one side (or both) MUST be wrong. Both choices are seriously afflicted with the idea that economics is about capitalism, rather than actual human behavior. Claims that economics is a non-ideological science are transparently false.
Philosophy (15 links)
No philosophy is unified: liberal, conservative, marxist and libertarian philosophies are numerous and varied. Libertarian philosophies are all based on fundamental fantasies which are easily contradicted by common knowledge and science. If they claim to be based on firmer foundations, they make magical, unexplained leaps from those foundations to their conclusions: the logic that would connect them is missing. Instead, we see academic versions of Calvinball.
Fellow Travelers (11 links)
Libertarianism overlaps the interests of many other groups, including plutocrats, gun nuts, NAMBLA, bigots, Nazis, the Confederacy and more.
Humor, Quotations, Etc. (9 links)
The lighter side of libertarianism. These make an otherwise dry subject more palatable.
Alternatives (21 links)
There are many alternative ideas which people find superior to libertarianism.


Since many of the people who take a similar position [libertarianism] are narrow and rigid, and filled, paradoxically, with resentment at other freer ways of being, my now having natural responses which fit the theory puts me in some bad company.
Robert Nozick, "Anarchy, State, and Utopia"
My contacts with Libertarians always leave me with a certain amount of contempt for their philosophies, which all seem to rely on the assumption that, if you can string together enough vague and high-sounding rhetoric, you can ignore both (1) all of human history and (2) what everyone else on earth now wants.
[...] 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"
But at base, the test of someone's politics is simple; if their political aim is to advance all of humanity, they're on our side, while if they have an overriding constraint that the current owners of property must always be satisfied first, they're playing for the opposition.
Daniel Davies, D-Squared Digest, May 21, 2003
Ideology is not so much a way of seeing the world as it is a set of blinders designed to keep you going in the ‘right’ direction, even when you would normally bolt and run the other way from horror at the sight of the place your faceless rider, Ideology, is taking you.
Daniel Larison, "If History Is For Us, Who Then Is Against Us?"
Libertarianism is supposed to be all about principles, but what it’s really about is political expedience. It’s basically a corporate front, masked as a philosophy.
Thomas Frank in Jane Mayer, "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right" pg. 123.
There may be two libertarians somewhere who agree with each other about everything, but I am not one of them.
David Friedman
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.
They tried that back in the day. We got a lot of wonderful Charles Dickens novels out of it.
Katamariguy (pseudonym), "Did you notice the the people who seem to believe in the efficiency of voluntary charity alone to the needy tend to be the ones who don't need it by themselves?"
Austin Petersen said that it shouldn’t be possible for someone to sell a 5-year-old heroin. He got booed. [2016 Libertarian Party USA Convention]
Grant Thompson, "Drugs, wizards, and trolls: The Libertarian Party"
Government may even be called the most beneficial of all earthly institutions as without it no peaceful human cooperation, no civilization, and no moral life would be possible.
Ludwig von Mises, "Economic Freedom and Interventionism"
The bloodstained story of economic individualism and unrestrained capitalist competition does not, I should have thought, today need stressing. Nevertheless, in view of the astonishing opinions which some of my critics have imputed to me, I should […] have made even clearer […] the evils of unrestricted laissez-faire.
Isaiah Berlin, "Four Essays on Liberty"
So much for the idea that so-called libertarians are uncompromising champions of freedom. In truth, they're tireless defenders of the idea that the people with the most wealth and power in our society deserve to keep it. This, of course, is hardly the subversive, counter-cultural brew that libertarians seem to think they're peddling--this is exactly what bought-off establishment politicians in Washington already think.
Tyler Zimmer, "Gary Johnson and the libertarian swindle"
Between the strong and the weak, between the rich and the poor, between master and servant, it is liberty that is oppressive and the law that sets free.
Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, speech given at the 52nd Conférence de Notre-Dame, Paris, 1848.
You call it cancer, I call it freedom loving cells, throwing off the shackles of collectivism and trying to reach their full potential of growth. If every cell in the body just started looking out for itself and its offspring, the outcome for the whole body could only be the best one imaginable.
WKorsakow (Reddit pseudonym), "How do I bootstrap myself out of cancer?"
The majority of economic activity takes place without any direct connection to markets, undertaken in the household or government sector, or within large corporations that trade in the market sector, but use central planning to organize their own activities.
John Quiggin, "I Pencil: A product of the mixed economy"
Libertarianism is, in the end, not so much about liberty as it is about protecting and enforcing absolute property and contract rights.
Samuel Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View" pg. 133
The evolution of government from its medieval, Mafia-like character to that embodying modern legal institutions and instruments is a major part of the history of freedom. It is a part that tends to be obscured or ignored because of the myopic vision of many economists, who persist in modeling government as nothing more than a gigantic form of theft and income redistribution.
Douglas North, "Institutions and economic growth: An historical introduction"
Contra Locke, property is not made by mixing labor: it is made by mixing coercion.
Mike Huben, "Interview With Mike Huben, Creator Of Critiques Of Libertarianism"
People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as ‘parasites’ fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society.
Jason Read, "How a USM professor became an Internet meme"
The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
John Kenneth Galbraith, "John Kenneth Galbraith on Conservatism."
All property rights necessarily infringe the liberties of others, as all entail reciprocal burdens on others, and in a world of scarcity, such burdens are often substantial.
Barbara Fried, "Left-Libertarianism: A Review Essay"
We have to start by decoding a whole system of intellectual distortion before you can even talk.
Noam Chomsky, "Libertarianism vs. American Libertarianism @5:00"
Libertarianism is the One Weird Trick For Solving Any Issue, Politicians HATE Us! of politics. It reduces many of the most complex problems in the world to a set of answers concise enough that they can fit on the back of a business card (isolationism, tiny government, bare minimal taxation).
Kirkaine, "Libertarians are primarily concerned with feeling correct, not about real world results."
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
The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
Joan Robinson, in Marx, Marshall And Keynes
Paradoxically, people exercise their freedom not to be libertarians.
Robert Locke, "Marxism of the Right"
Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.
George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism" May, 1945
So what is it that differentiates the writing of Rand from those of classic academics and professional philosophers? It is simply that her work has every appearance of an extended and multi-faceted straw man argument that fails to meet even the minimum standards of scholarship. It has all the marks of what in science would be pseudo-science. If there is such a thing as pseudo-philosophy, this is it.
Gary Merrill, "Rand's work: style and quality"
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of the negroes?
Samuel Johnson, Taxation No Tyranny
My concern is that we’re dealing with an industry -- exemplified by creationism and climate change denial -- that has built up a body of well-funded propaganda which allows their believers to rear up and say, "Well, we are citizen scientists who have our own facts, and we say that the Earth is 6000 years old and global warming is just a natural cycle." They aren’t going to be impressed by published, verified facts about the natural world when they have something even more significant to them: validation of their biases, consilience with their holy book, resentment and paranoia about those damned ivory tower eggheads.
PZ Myers, "Science in America"
If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world, why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world? Communism was tried and failed. Libertarianism has never even been tried on the scale of a modern nation-state, even a small one, anywhere in the world.
Michael Lind, "The Failure of Libertarianism: Why Economic Freedom Alone Cannot Deliver a Better Future"
Free-market fundamentalists prefer rejecting science to admitting that there are ever cases when government regulation is necessary.
Paul Krugman, "The Id That Ate the Planet"
Well what’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else -- a little bit in England -- permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society. [...] that kind of libertarianism, in my view, in the current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny.
Noam Chomsky, "The Kind of Anarchism I Believe in, and What's Wrong with Libertarians"
... the place where [adults] pass the most time and submit to the closest control is at work. Thus, without even entering into the question of the world economy's ultimate dictation within narrow limits of everybody's productive activity, it's apparent that the source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is _not_ the state but rather the business that employs him. Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade.
Bob Black, "The Libertarian As Conservative"
Liberty and equality, spontaneity and security, happiness and knowledge, mercy and justice - all these are ultimate human values, sought for themselves alone; yet when they are incompatible, they cannot all be attained, choices must be made, sometimes tragic losses accepted in pursuit of some preferred ultimate end.
Isaiah Berlin, "The Power of Ideas" p. 27
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
John Rogers, Ephemera 2009 (7)
A Libertarian is someone who wants everyone else to lift themselves up by their bootstraps just like they didn't.
mrb (Twitter pseudonym, 7:27 PM - 9 Jul 2016)
First things come first [...] individual freedom is not everyone's primary need.
Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"
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)"
We should wonder about this impulse of economists like Friedman and Hayek to theorize and write about the meaning of freedom and liberty. Why should economists be taken as the moral authority on what freedom and liberty mean? Are they our new priests? Indeed, Friedman is tipping his hand to a secret about economics as a discipline: economic policies are not value-neutral science.
Howard I. Schwartz, "What Color Tie Do You Vote For?"
[...] in Ayn Rand’s world, a man who self-righteously instigates the collapse of society, thereby inevitably killing millions if not billions of people, is portrayed as a messiah figure rather than as a genocidal prick, which is what he’d be anywhere else. Yes, he’s a genocidal prick with excellent engineering skills. Good for him. He’s still a genocidal prick.
John Scalzi, What I Think About Atlas Shrugged
As with much libertarian posturing what they say and how they act are two different things. The libertarians are owned (whether they know it or not) by a group of super wealthy capitalists (Scaife, Koch, Walton, Coors, Mars, etc.). They get their ideologically motivated followers to spew things about "free" markets and maximizing profits, but all this is a cover for their true agenda -- making them even richer.
Robert Feinman, commenting in "What obligation? Maximise what?"
Anarcho-capitalism exists; landownership just happens to be dominated by about 200 corporations called governments.
Karl Widerquist, "Why Do Philosophers Talk so Much and Read so Little About the Stone Age? False factual claims in appropriation-based property theory"
Libertarianism is like Leninism: a fascinating, internally consistent political theory with some good underlying points that, regrettably, makes prescriptions about how to run human society that can only work if we replace real messy human beings with frictionless spherical humanoids of uniform density.
Charles Stross, "Why I want Bitcoin to die in a fire"
Hayek’s critique of democratic government has proven to be the most monstrous blood libel of the post-World War II era -- falsely declaring that democratic government must end in tyranny and the mass murder of its own people.
Bill Black, "Why the Worst Get on Top -- in Economics and as CEOs"