What Is Wrong With Libertarianism
The major problem with libertarianism is its arguments. However appealing libertarianism might sound, many of the arguments are conspicuously bad. With further examination, more and more arguments look worse and worse. This necessitates a huge libertarian apologetics (defense of their philosophy), but the apologetics are also fraught with bad argument.
With sufficient confirmation bias or dishonesty, bad arguments are not a problem for some libertarians. But identifying bad arguments and why they are bad is a useful skill in the search for better arguments for or against.
Here is a list of criteria for judging a presentation or argument of libertarianism. Statements should not fail any of this gauntlet of tests, applied charitably. Whether you are moving towards or away from libertarianism, this list can be used to improve arguments and understanding.
Each of these criteria has an extended article or index.
- Diversity In Libertarianism
- Libertarianism is diverse. Libertarianism can be left or right, rationalist or antirationalist, essentialist or pragmatist, hardcore or soft core, based on rights or liberty or values, using Austrian or Chicago or other economics, statist or anarchist, political or philosophical, etc. No argument can truly be representative of all libertarianisms. Discussions will be incoherent if they change from one libertarianism to another without noticing. And there is no true, correct libertarianism: that would be an essentialist fallacy. These problems can be avoided if arguments are focussed on one specific libertarian viewpoint at a time.
- There Is No Simple Description Of Libertarianism
- 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.
- The Short, Simple Dismissal Of Libertarianism
- 99% of libertarianism is obviously untrue or unacceptable for one or more of these reasons. My Gish Gallop through 40 (or more) reasons.
- Libertarians Misunderstand Freedom (2 links)
- Libertarians use freedom as a glittering generality of propaganda. A freedom consists of an ability to do something without a human or natural obstacle. Libertarians redefine freedom as being unobstructed by humans. Either definition of freedom prohibits obstructions by humans. If a freedom is enforced, it is a right (otherwise it is merely a claim) and the prohibition of human obstruction is an enforced involuntary duty. Every enforced freedom creates these unfreedoms. A capability is a freedom where the ability is also a right: there is an enforced involuntary duty to enable in addition to the duty not to obstruct.
- Libertarians Misunderstand Rights
- Natural rights are nonsense on stilts. Rights are positive in the scientific sense: they are observable phenomena consisting of human behavior and institutions that can be studied as certainly as we study any other animal behavior. Rights are not mere claims: they exist because of enforced involuntary duties. And those involuntary duties conflict with freedoms.
- Libertarians Misunderstand Property
- Libertarians routinely assume modern property is natural, is absolute, is costless, should extend over all, and solves all problems. None of that is true.
- Libertarianism by any other name would still stink. (1 link)
- There has been a ridiculous product proliferation for names of libertarianism. It might be sensible if the different names meant substantially different things, but usually they don't.
- Ayn Rand (39 links)
- Anybody who thinks Rand is a great author or a great philosopher can be immediately discounted. She was the Horatio Alger of her era. See also Objectivism, her cult philosophy.
- Gold (5 links)
- Austrians tend to spout weird theories about depressions being due to "fiat money", and how the one, true currency is gold which will solve all those problems. Ayn Rand fans mimic her fetish for gold in "Atlas Shrugged". Despite the fact that most of the world operated on the silver standard for centuries, and the gold standard was due to government fiats in the 19th century.
- Libertarian And Objectivism Are Both Stolen Terms (2 links)
- Libertarianism has been used by philosophers about free will for 200 years. Libertarian was used by anarchists for roughly 100 years before it was recently co-opted by right-wing American libertarians. Objectivism was used by Gottlob Frege for his philosophical realism decades before Rand's adoption. The Objectivist Poets also used the term before Rand did.
- Libertarianism is not an ideology [More...]
- "... show me a libertarianism that does not inevitably benefit the rich against the poor, the powerful against the powerless, the boss against the worker. Then maybe libertarianism will be worth taking seriously. Until then, libertarianism will be a wink, a dodge, a clever ruse, an exercise in shamelessness."
- The End of Libertarians [More...]
- "Libertarianism is frequently perceived by the general public, not entirely without justice, as a movement of mostly white male 20- or 30-somethings, disproportionately from the tech industry or other white collar jobs, who see themselves as victims and everyone unlike themselves — women, LGBT people, people of color — as naturally collectivist barbarians."
DPL IS DONE HERE
It would be nice if there was a simple dismissal of libertarianism, but there are so many different kinds that no one argument could apply. There is really no such thing as a coherent libertarian ideology or philosophy. Nor is there one "real" libertarianism: libertarianism is heterogeneous (a mixed collection.) Libertarianism can be left or right, rationalist or antirationalist, essentialist or pragmatist, hardcore or soft core, based on rights or liberty or values, using Austrian or Chicago or other economics, statist or anarchist, political or philosophical, etc. This occurs in other viewpoints (conservatism, liberalism, etc.) as well: but there are three great errors made because of this fact. The first is presenting any one statement as typical of all libertarianism, instead of one or a few sects. That is a false generalization. The second is using these different varieties as if they were the same thing. That is a fallacy of the shifting middle term. The third is the claim that there is a "true" libertarianism. That's an essentialist fallacy. These problems are best avoided by focusing on individual arguments based on one libertarian viewpoint at a time.
Natural rights are nonsense on stilts. Rights are positive in the scientific sense: they are observable phenomena consisting of human behavior and institutions that can be studied as certainly as we study any other animal behavior. Rights are not mere claims: they exist because of enforced involuntary duties. And those involuntary duties conflict with freedoms.
Libertarians routinely assume modern property is natural, is absolute, is costless, should extend over all, and solves all problems. None of that is true.
Libertarians use freedom as a glittering generality of propaganda. A freedom consists of an ability to do something without a human or natural obstacle. Libertarians redefine freedom as being unobstructed by humans. Either definition of freedom prohibits obstructions by humans. If a freedom is enforced, it is a right (otherwise it is merely a claim) and the prohibition of human obstruction is an enforced involuntary duty. Every enforced freedom creates these unfreedoms. A capability is a freedom where the ability is also a right: there is an enforced involuntary duty to enable in addition to the duty not to obstruct.
The morality of any particular liberty or freedom must be decided independently. Just because it is a liberty or freedom does not mean it is good. For example, if I am free to punch you in the nose, is that good? If I am free to radioactively contaminate my own land for thousands of years, is that good? Arguments that these actions are not "real liberties or freedoms" have nothing to do with reality: they are simply attempts to redefine common words to fit ideology (see newspeak.)
Adrift in the ocean.
The Isaiah Berlin sense of positive and negative really means that positive rights are costly and negative rights are free because they rely on "doing nothing". But because all rights have costly enforceable duties, all rights are positive. Instead rights may be ranked in order of costliness, some more costly (positive) than others.
Libertarians are generally guilty of misrepresenting government. First, they discuss government as if it is monolithic, but it is not. Modern government is dispersed in two ways: by separation of powers among three branches and by division of responsibilities among federal, state, local, non-government and private authorities. Second, libertarians represent government as a source of coercion, but it is not. Government is where we delibertarely channel coercion because the alternative (the private sector) gives much worse results, as the history of privately owned states (communisms, fascisms, feudalisms, monarchies, dictatorships, and other despotisms) and private "law" (such as slavery, mafias, warlords, etc.) show rather clearly. We have constructed a government (a representative, democratic, constitutional republic) that is jointly owned by all, because private ownership gives too much incentive for profit through coercion of others.
They think "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you" is laughable or evil. Tell that to Social Security recipients, refugees, etc.
Many libertarians claim any government involvement is bad. Then, if they wish to denounce something, they simply identify the government involvement and claim things would be improved if the government was removed. Much like the idea that all good comes from God, and all evil from Satan.
list of liberal tools for society, including markets and government
Libertarian philosophy consists of post hoc rationalizations for an intolerant conservative set of strongly held values, ie. view of the good or gut feelings. (In contrast, liberalism is tolerant of diverse values, and attempts to maximize satisfaction.) These "rational" philosophies are based in either omitted, unreal, tautological, untestable or demonstrably false assumptions. Then they frequently add grotesque fallacies on top of the false bases.
We live in the richest societies in history. We produce so many times more than past societies that we could abolish almost all poverty, as has been done in so many Scandinavian nations. We are at the point where we can ask what ALL people should have. All people should have the Four Freedoms. All people should have education, medical care, food, clothing, housing. Who should be excepted and why? Libertarians have no answer here: their obsession with property above all other values produces Procrustean solutions at best. Libertarians have no ideological guidelines for balancing property with other values, no way to go beyond "I've got mine."
Reliance on spin, propaganda, public relations deceit, historical revisionism, denialism and crankery in defiance of science, history, economics, experience, and other more accurate ways of knowing. Often called vulgar libertarianism.
Propaganda Terms (including classical liberalism), phatic language, dog-whistle terms, newspeak, libertarian special meanings of terms.
"Them pore ole bosses need all the help they can get." http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2006/09/vulgar-libertarianism-neoliberalism.html
(neoliberal economics) mistaking economic efficiency for an optimum, post-autistic economics
Corporate socialism, crony capitalism, corporate catspaws, vs. unions, corps as legal individuals, limited liability, Index Of Economic Freedom
Free trade should benefit all if there is comparative advantage. But in the real world there is absolute advantage, due to mobility of capital. This means that free trade can (and does) harm some according to the academic literature. Undeveloped nations that have been foolish enough to listen to free trade advocates have languished in poverty, while those that have strategically erected trade barriers have developed. That pattern is universal. The libertarian unequivocal endorsement of free trade is merely the voice of predatory business which doesn't care if absolute advantage results in harms. The reason multinational corporations flourish is because their internal transfers of capital between nations allows them to exploit absolute advantage at the expense of others.
Libertarians have no coherent ideas for the production of public goods at any level, let alone at something near an optimal level. Nor can they point to a single example of libertarian provision of the most important public good: defense.
While most libertarian arguments presume rational adults, they fail miserably for children. Do children have the same rights as adults? Do parents have rights over children? Do any adults? Most libertarian discussions of children are claims that government should not be involved, no matter how egregious parental behavior. http://www.strike-the-root.com/51/weebies/weebies10.html http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2007/03/20/not-that-kind-of-libertarian-puzzles-of-childrens-rights/
If you believe in taxation for national defense, then any honest libertarian can describe you as a statist who believes that coercive taxation is justified by an "ends justify the means" philosophy.
With all the ranting about how we're going to go bankrupt, become a dictatorship, and other such doomsaying, it's really puzzling how the USA has lasted 200+ years without this happening already. Everything is a slippery slope to them, and they don't want to hear about feedback mechanisms that might derail their rant.
Ignore Equality And Justice Markets do nothing for equality and justice, so libertarians say they must be sour grapes. Even worse, markets create inequality and injustice: slavery is a classic example. Most major political issues have equality and justice dimensions which libertarians ignore because their ideology has no solution. Education?
Road To Serfdom,
Big Guvment wants you to be enslaved!
Tiny, shrinking minority, claims on economists, claims of rationality, etc.