Another Example of How Not to Criticize Libertarianism

Apparently some people simply cannot be bothered to do any research into libertarianism. They have a full stack of straw man arguments and bogus assumptions, and they never bother to check on whether or not anything in that stack is true. Why? I have no idea. But I am going to point out some errors in that stack anyway.

Actually, the question to be asked is why would an editor of a respected news source like Bloomberg let such lazy ignorance slide? Over at Bloomberg.com is an opinion piece by Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu, both of whom, according to the bio info at the bottom of the article, should know better. The editor should also know better.

The main premise of their opinion piece is that “radical libertarianism” is just as bad as communism. Why?

Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.

Oh, the old “communisim was bad, and we don’t like libertarianism either, so communism and libertarianism are really the same thing” bit. Why would this radical or extreme libertarianism result in such dystopian tragedy? Beyond some highly questionable and highly speculative assertions, they never actually say. They just assert that is so.

Surely Hanauer and Liu must have some examples of this “radical libertarianism” they fear. Well, sort of, but not really.

Some [radical libertarians], such as the Koch brothers, are economic royalists who repackage trickle-down economics as “libertarian populism.” Some are followers of Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose highest aspiration is to shut down government. Some resemble the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who has made a career out of trying to drown, stifle or strangle government.

Libertarian populism is not trickle-down economics. Trickle-down economics is the idea that lots of tax breaks and corporate welfare provided by government to big businesses is good for society as a whole. Libertarian populism is the notion that government, including its corporate welfare programs, is bloated and harming society as a whole. Are we treated to even a single quote from Senator Ted Cruz to support their assertion about him? No. They, or the editor, did manage to provide a link to a Bloomberg archive of articles that mention Grover Norquist. Yet, they could not be bothered to provide one example of Grover Norquist promoting anarchy.

But Norquist said he wants to drown government in the bathtub. No, that is not what he said. What Norquist said was: “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

But what about the thoughts of Hanauer and Liu on the supposed menace of “radical libertarianism”? Surely they manage a reasoned criticism of it. Well, no. They really do not.

Like communism, this philosophy is defective in its misreading of human nature, misunderstanding of how societies work and utter failure to adapt to changing circumstances. Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution. It assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers, when, in fact, they are fragile ecosystems prone to collapse and easily overwhelmed by free-riders. And it is fanatically rigid in its insistence on a single solution to every problem: Roll back the state!

Sigh. Really? So on the one hand they claim “radical libertarianism” is bad because it advocates shunning cooperation. And on the other hand, they say “radical libertarianism” is bad because it is far too trusting that society can work out it’s own problems without authoritarian control. Which is it? Libertarians don’t want to get along with others or they think they can get along with others? Which is it? Libertarianism is unable to adapt to changes in society or libertarianism is too amenable to changes in society?

No, actually, libertarianism does not fanatically apply one solution to all problems. For one thing, there is nothing fanatical about suggesting that problems caused and/or exacerbated by government overreach might be best solved by ending that overreach. For another, to “roll back the state” would be a means to the solution, not the solution itself. The solution itself is generally to protect the liberty and rights of individuals.

And as long as we are going to talk about being “fanatically rigid” in insisting on a single solution, let us have something clear here and now. The solution these days that is insisted upon with fanatical rigidity is the one which says no matter what the consequences of a government policy or program or law might be, the solution is always more government involvement. That solution is touted with almost religious fervor, by both conservative and liberal politicians and pundits. Any deviation from that doctrine will get you labeled as unrealistic, naive, utopian, cynical, fanatical, radical, extreme, “misunderstanding of how societies work”, et cetera.

But surely Hanauer and Liu must have some proof for the assertions they have made. Well, actually, no.

Some libertarians will claim we are arguing against a straw man and that no serious adherent to their philosophy advocates the extreme positions we describe. The public record of extreme statements by the likes of Cruz, Norquist and the Pauls speaks for itself. Reasonable people debate how best to regulate or how government can most effectively do its work — not whether to regulate at all or whether government should even exist.

Seriously, along with a few other baseless speculations (which sound like they come from bad liberal slash fiction), that is the best support they could muster up for their assertions about the supposed threat of “radical libertarianism”. Here is a clue: If a person said he wanted to lose weight, would you assume he meant he wanted to commit suicide? No, probably not. That would be a foolish conclusion. And just as foolish is claiming that Ted Cruz, Grover Norquist, Ron Paul and Rand Paul, have argued against the existence of government. So in the attempt Hanauer and Liu make here to stake out for themselves what “reasonable people debate”, they only manage to make themselves appear unreasonable.

Okay, but can I back up what I say? Sure. I have shown you the Grover Norquist quote. How about one from Rand Paul:

“So the government does have a role; they are an arbiter,” Paul says. “They are they the one who protects property, protects the sanctity and the name that goes and attaches to the house. They protect transactions. They protect commerce. There is a role for government.”

Clearly not the words of someone who is questioning “whether government should even exist.”

These statements by Norquist and Paul are not even extreme statements. They are just statements outside the political preferences of Hanauer and Liu. For actual extreme libertarianism, you would have to turn to anarcho-capitalists like Murray Rothbard or Stefan Molyneux. But that is a topic for another day.

So then, since Hanauer and Liu reject both communism and this imaginary “radical libertarianism” that they have concocted from baseless dystopian speculations and fantasies, what do they recommend?

The alternative to this extremism is an evolving blend of freedom and cooperation. […]

True citizenship enables a society to thrive for precisely the reasons that communism and radical libertarianism cannot. It is based on a realistic conception of human nature that recognizes we must cooperate to be able compete at higher levels. True citizenship means changing policy to adapt to changes in circumstance. Sometimes government isn’t the answer. Other times it is.

Hanauer and Liu are undoubtedly smart fellows. But they have somehow completely missed that what they are advocating here as a solution for society has pretty nearly the same outline as what people like Grover Norquist and Rand Paul have advocated. And if Hanauer and Liu had spent even a little bit of time researching their subject matter, they could have easily discovered this. Because the public record of what people like Norquist and Paul have said is not a record of extreme statements.

Why do I say that? Because reasonable people do, in point of fact, debate over what government should and should not regulate. Reasonable people do debate what exactly is the proper role of government in society. Reasonable people do debate what government does and how government does it. 

What reasonable people should not do, however, is concoct fallacious arguments for the sake of propagandizing against the ideas for which they apparently have no legitimate or substantive response. But that is precisely what Hanauer and Liu have done. One might think people like Hanauer and Liu would worry about their credibility suffering from writing such absurd nonsense. But apparently not. 

Sadly, this is nothing new. The opinion piece by Hanauer and Liu is standard anti-libertarian scare-mongering. In such all such piously tut-tutting invectives, the facts are less important than scaring people about those crazy/radical/extreme libertarians.

I am not saying you have to agree with everything libertarians say. I am not saying libertarians are above criticism. On the contrary, please, feel free to disagree and to criticize all you like. But make sure you have some idea what you are talking about first. There are good criticisms to make regarding libertarianism. But please make sure you are criticizing actual libertarianism. There is a reason why the straw man argument is called a fallacy.

In the words of Nick Gillespie of reason.com

If this sort of ultra-crude and unconvincing style of argument (communists=bad; libertarians=bad; therefore, communists=libertarians) is the best that opponents of libertarian influence and policy can do, our future is indeed bright.

8 Responses to “Another Example of How Not to Criticize Libertarianism”

  1. Serendipity1972 Says:

    I have heard of conspiracy theories that suggest the government is a tool to control the population. Free thinking would not support this, and your post made me think of it. (Disclaimer: not necessarily my opinion, just made me think of it!).

    • I am not one for conspiracy theories. But some people do talk about libertarianism as if it were some sort of conspiracy. They speak in slightly panicked tones regarding what they believe libertarianism is “really” about, and nervously ascribe nefarious plans to people like the Koch brothers or Grover Norquist. This is, I surmise, because they are afraid of libertarianism due to the fact that it does not fit into their narrow worldview.

  2. magiicalmermaid Says:

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the article, but I’m not sure who to ask. I just signed up for your blog and I like what I’ve read so far. I love that you are Libertarian. I am a divorced woman and new to this subject and I have been taking a good look at my life and I want to learn and grow. Anyway, I was wondering if there is such thing as like a poly submissive dominant relationship type thing – like 2 submissive women and 1 dominant man? Is something like this possible or is that too much work for the man? Thank you for your time.

    • Yes, it is possible. Some men do find a way to make it work. And welcome to Liberate One.

      • magicalmermaid Says:

        Thank you for responding. I have been doing a lot of reflecting this past year or so and have recently “relearned” that I am a submissive female, always have been and did not really realize or believe that I was submissive (because it was looked down upon) even though it is me – I always thought dominant and submissive was bdsm and was about whipping and very painful things and that wasn’t me so I never checked it out before. I have always stood by my man and wanted to please him and look pretty for him and do whatever I can to make him happy. I’ve always been like that, it’s normal for me and I never knew it was called something. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a trained submissive (at least I don’t think I am, unless my parents trained me). It’s in me, I am a pleasant person and I want to please. I look back at past times and see things that my man told me to do and I would not do it (this was not a knowing D/s relationship and the man was not very respectful – this is a big thing for me these days – respect – I deserve to be treated with kindness, care and respect nothing less). I might would have some difficulty following orders or instructions, but maybe not – I guess it all depends on the man. I have not picked out the best men to be with in my life. And I’ve been thinking about everything these days, which got me thinking about a poly relationship with another woman and a man – I think learning and growing and caring for and loving each other could be a beautiful thing for 3, to me it seems like it could be real love – giving and receiving love from a man and a woman – 2 kinds of love. Sometimes I think “why not?” – then I remember that my 2 small children live with me 1/2 time and maybe things like this should be fantasy, how does one know what can be real and what should stay fantasy? Sorry this got so long. If you read this, I thank you very much for your time.

        • How does one know what can be real and what should stay fantasy. Well, you just have to be honest and realistic about your obligations and your time and your priorities. I am not going to tell you to not pursue happiness, but you should not let the pursuit of a short term happiness interfere with the pursuit of a long term happiness, or with your obligations to your children. Be honest with yourself about what you want and what your priorities truly are, and you will find your way.

          • MagicalMermaid Says:

            Thank you so much for responding, you are awesome and you are Love. It is all about love, life is. I have recently found Love in my self. You are an intelligent man and you may know that we all have both inside of us – the dominant and the submissive and recently “they” came together inside of me and we all made love and it was a beautiful thing 🙂 ~ I still love the idea of loving a man and a woman and being part of 3 AND I also love the idea of being someone’s goddess, Woohoo! I am changing, as we all are and I love the idea of being treated like a goddess 🙂 I have a lot of love to share and I m keeping an open mind about everything. Thank you for you time, I greatly appreciate it.

          • You’re welcome.

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