Critiques Of Libertarianism:About

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Why do you do this?

Duty calls.png XKCD

What is the purpose of your site?

The subject of this site is libertarianism: in the broad, poorly defined colloquial sense which includes Objectivism. This is a diverse assortment of philosophy converging from many origins to what Alan Haworth characterizes as "a certain assertively right-wing, pro-free market philosophy." Discussion of what is or isn't libertarian or why Objectivism isn't libertarian is not of much interest: the philosophical and political arguments are the subject. For those interested in classification, I refer you to Cetology, Melville's discourse on why the whale is a fish in "Moby Dick".

Your site is anti-libertarian!

This is not an anti-libertarian site, despite its critical nature. My view is that anti-libertarian would imply opposite to libertarian. Such a position would be ridiculous: instead, particular aspects of libertarianism are criticized for being untrue or undesirable. This site is intended to benefit audiences in ways that may either confirm or disconfirm their libertarian or other beliefs. For example, I regularly get email from libertarians praising my site for helping them eliminate the weak arguments from their understanding of libertarianism. As well as compliments from non-libertarians who want to oppose libertarians.

My site is more or less impartial: I feature writings from libertarians, objectivists, anarchists, liberals, conservatives, marxists, etc. I've also allowed a great deal of input from libertarians to help shape my own ideas and writings, even though I myself am not impartial.

So what's your alternative?

In my own writings, I attempt to criticize libertarianism mostly by its own standards. Not from my own viewpoint. This has a major advantage: I start with most libertarians agreeing with me. The other major advantage is that we avoid the distraction of having my viewpoint attacked. You see, let's say I wrote my arguments from a Marxist viewpoint. Lots of folks would say "YUCK! Marxist poppycock!" and not bother reading any further. Likewise if I wrote from liberal or conservative viewpoints. Or even more unfamiliar viewpoints.

So what I've attempted is to focus solely on the problems that are self- evident in vulgar libertarian evangelistic argument. If I can get you to recognize that the arguments are bad without turning you off, then you are free to seek better arguments, either in libertarianism or other political systems. Indeed, creating dissatisfaction will prompt you to search harder than presentation of an opposing view: you might simply reject the opposing view "because it has to be wrong."

You didn't answer the question: what's your position?

That's right, I answered with my strategy for being listened to precisely because many libertarians want the easy route out of dismissing me for my position. But I've never made any bones about my position. It's somewhere between liberalism and David Friedman's ideas, closer to the liberalism because I think government works better and the market more poorly than he does.

What that works out to in practice is that I disagree with most libertarian complaints about taxation and redistribution, agree with many about needless government interference in private lives, and disagree with most libertarian proposals for reforms. For example, I too dislike the prohibitionary "war on drugs" and think it is very harmful. But while I would legalize most drug usage for recreation, I would do so under a regulatory policy that would address what I consider real, harmful problems due to a variety of market failures. Likewise tobacco.

You don't criticize the real basis of libertarianism, only strawmen.

The arguments I have criticized so far have all been made by self-proclaimed libertarians. Frequently. The protean nature of libertarianism causes problems for critics in open debate. There is no single basis which can be argued: you need to rebut a half dozen or more sets of assumptions, which the pseudo-intellectual libertarians mix and match with a delightfully inconsistent abandonment of rationality. (There are some libertarians who are more intellectually consistent.)

If I demolish any one foundation, supporters of another can simply call it a straw man because it is "a weaker argument". How do they know it is "weaker"? Because I happened to argue against it first?

This presupposes I am attacking more than the individual arguments. If I claimed to have demolished libertarianism (which I don't) by defeating these arguments, then I could be guilty of the strawman argument. I prefer to be humble enough to restrain my claims to the arguments, and let people decide for themselves whether they should doubt libertarianism on the basis of my arguments.

Numerous libertarians dismiss your arguments, and have rebutted them.

Yes, but what are their dismissals and rebuttals worth? I encourage you to examine the rebuttals to my FAQ, for example. Most of their arguments are pathetically bad; depending on non-sequiturs, mis-interpretation of what I said, ignoring what I say elsewhere to clarify, ad-hominem, and a host of other fallacious methodologies. This is not to say my arguments are unassailable. They can be argued against from libertarian perspectives very well. (Usually they're not.) However, I can argue back likewise. There is a trade-off between how thoroughly an argument can be made and how much somebody will read: I'd rather err on the side of the latter.

Why do you only attack? Why can't you do something constructive?

As the great atheist Robert Ingersoll said, "The destroyer of weeds, thistles and thorns is a benefactor whether he soweth grain or not." Exposure of error or fraud is beneficial in that at least you have a chance to find something correct or honest. Libertarians ought to be grateful to have an outsider tell them that sometimes their emperor has no clothes. (Or since they have no emperor, that they aren't wearing any pants. :-)

Your site is boring and plain!

I am strongly in favor of content over appearance. I think that the lack of graphics and clutter at my site is a positive feature, though it probably won't win me any awards from people who think rotating icons are sexy. I despise advertisements, gratuitous icons, scrolling messages, and most of the visual noise that bedecks all too many sites (and makes them slow to download to boot.) I prefer simple functionality.

At some point, if I get some design assistance, I may redecorate this site. In the mean time, I'd rather add content. I hope my readers agree.

Your site is one-sided!

The title SAYS it's one-sided. Critiques. I'll be happy to fix that as soon as the libertarian sites and libertarian literature fix their one-sidedness. However, I will be happy to create links to criticisms of the pages at my site, as I do to the criticisms of my FAQ. I think it is only fair, and judging from the quality of the criticisms so far, I come out ahead.

You must be afraid of our growing numbers if you devote this much attention to us.

This has also been expressed as "Dogs don't bark at tombstones". My initial response is that dogs DO pee on tombstones. Of course, I could observe that with numerous web responses to my FAQ alone, libertarians seem afraid of me. That's the problem with those sorts of rhetorical arguments: they cut too many ways. But many libertarians seem to like them.