What's Wrong With Libertarianism

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Jeffrey Friedman, editor of Critical Review. thoroughly skewers four books on libertarianism. "Libertarian arguments about the empirical benefits of capitalism are, as yet, Inadequate to convince anyone who lacks libertarian philosophical convictions. Yet ‘philosophical’ libertarianism founders on internal contradictions that render it unfit to make libertarians out of anyone who does not have strong consequentialist reasons for libertarian belief. The joint failure of these two approaches to libertarianism explains why they are both present in orthodox libertarianism -- they hide each other’s weaknesses, thereby perpetuating them." Reviewed: Libertarianism, A Primer, by David Boaz; Classical Liberalism: The Unvanquished Ideal, by David Conway; What It Means to Be a Libertarian, by Charles Murray; Bringing the Market Back In, by John Kelley.


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... all legal systems, including libertarianism, coercively enforce rules that assign the “ownership” of all persons and all bits of the world. Every legal system throws a net of coercion over the entire society it covers, prohibiting by force any deviations from its definitions of rights. Inasmuch as there is just as much of the world to be parcelled out under each system’s set of property rules, and the rights governing all of this property are just as coercively enforced in all systems, there is no difference in the “amount” of coercion -- or, conversely, the amount of (negative) freedom -- under different legal systems, including libertarianism... So, strictly in terms of negative liberty -- freedom from physical coercion -- libertarianism has no edge over any other system
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With LibertarianismWhat's Wrong With Libertarianism"
Amartya Sen has pointed out that all contemporary moral theories, including libertarianism, are essentially egalitarian; we can press on from this observation to ask why, if (as Boaz maintains) the liberty of a human being to own another should be trumped by equal human rights, the liberty to own large amounts of property should not also be trumped by equal human rights. This alone would seem definitively to lay to rest the philosophical case for libertarianism.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With LibertarianismWhat's Wrong With Libertarianism"
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 LibertarianismWhat's Wrong With Libertarianism" pg. 431.
In editing a journal that has received manuscripts from virtually every libertarian scholar, famous and unknown alike, I have long been struck by the consistent juxtaposition of what another observer delicately calls the “intermingling of positive statements and normative pleadings”: the coincidence of libertarian philosophical sentiments with weak empirical research, leaps of logic, and contempt for nonlibertarian points of view (of which the authors usually appear ignorant). The polemical tone and deficient evidence, however, and the tarnishing of often-good ideas by doctrinaire rhetoric and low scholarly standards, are only the least of it. The worst thing is not the waste of effort that goes into producing propaganda barely veiled by the robes of scholarship. The greater tragedy is what libertarians could produce, but do not.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With LibertarianismWhat's Wrong With Libertarianism"
... libertarianism would simply be liberalism if not for its equation of “liberty” with private property.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With LibertarianismWhat's Wrong With Libertarianism"