A Redditor notable only for his unhealthy fixation on slinging pathetic criticism at libertarianism and its adherents recently linked to an article entitled “I’m Still Not a Libertarian … so I guess that means I’m opposed to personal freedom“. I began reading it out of curiosity, and when I shortly discovered the poor quality of the piece my first inclination was to move on to other things; however, the Redditor noted that he “had several people tell [him] they are no longer Libertarians based on this one article.”
So I kept reading … and reading and reading. At around 70 paragraphs, it stands as one of the tallest straw men I have ever encountered, a straw man built haphazardly upon a slew of other logical fallacies that just kept coming. The article itself is argumentum verbosium as it challenges the reader to stay awake and suspend their sense of logic long enough to even make it through.
I do not wish to make the same mistake as the author by making my response as verbose; my purpose in writing this is rather to provide a handful of points that can be successfully used to refute most of the irrational objections raised by him and similar objections raised by the poor souls who managed to be convinced by them.
The author begins by offering three fallacies he claims are associated with libertarianism. Each one is a straw man, and I’ll address them individually.
He states the first fallacy thusly: “By making these radical changes, we are removing the root cause of all the failures and evils of society as it presently stands. This will eliminate all of the existing problems, and since we have no knowledge of what new problems might arise, we can assume there will be none. Everything will work right, because there are no foreseeable things that can go wrong.”
In other words, he accuses libertarians of being utopian. This is not only untrue but the opposite of the truth. Utilitarian libertarians are such precisely because they reject the utopian notions of statism and social contract. The belief that we can grant a monopoly on violence to an institution, along with the authority to determine whether its own actions are permissable — in other words, to grant limitless power to an entity and then say, “Limit yourself” — that is the truly utopian and unrealistic fantasy of a naive mind.
This accusation is a straw man because libertarianism does not assert that our lives will be problem-free if only our radical changes are made effective. Libertarianism asserts that the answer to the non-violent ills of society is not violence; that murder, theft and fraud are wrong no matter who commits them; that we ought to be free to voluntarily pursue solutions to problems instead of having solutions forced upon us.
His second fallacy is his belief that libertarianism espouses “the idea that freedom is measured by absence of laws.” This is also not only untrue but the opposite of the truth. Libertarianism recognizes that law predates and exists independent of the State, and that the State is one of the primary violators of law. We seek to hold all accountable to the law equally, even if they wear costumes with shiny badges or work in grandiose buildings in Washington, D.C.
His third “fallacy” is simply a statement that libertarianism can lead to “absolutism”. He states that absolutism leads to intolerance, which leads to violence. I never thought I would need to point out that accusing a philosophy based upon the non-aggression principle of breeding aggression is absurd, but apparently I do. He ridicules violence in self-defense without supporting himself, then goes on and on with examples of when one must compromise one’s principles, again without offering any support for the claims.
He finally gets around to raising a valid concern, and that is with the nature of property. The concept of property is central to libertarianism, as the non-aggression principle is based upon the self-ownership axiom. The concept of property and its accompanying philosophy is a largely unexplored territory from what I have found, and many perfectly valid objections have been raised regarding its legitimacy and nature. Unfortunately, the author of the article missed out on this golden opportunity and spent several paragraphs contradicting himself and demonstrating his inability to form rational thoughts. I honestly hope he explores this portion more thoroughly in the future.
Since the remainder of the article is quite lengthy, unorganized and composed mostly of tired old arguments that have been refuted time and time again, I will not bother to address it here. The entire article suffers from many persistent problems. He tends to target not libertarianism but the few libertarians he has met “within the software industry, in online discussion, and elsewhere.” By targeting the adherents instead of the philosophy itself, he saves himself from a lot of the work that comes with logical thought.
He tends to target adherents to several — and quite different — philosophies within the large tent of libertarianism. The bulk of it seems to be pointed at minarchists, but he also mentions anarcho-capitalists and objectivists. To lump them all together in many of his assertions is intellectually irresponsible. Take minarchism and anarcho-capitalism, for example. One is based on the assertion that justice cannot exist without a State, and the other is based on the assertion that justice cannot exist with a State. These are very different philosophies with very different tenets. The article would be less confusing if he identified which philosophy a particular objection was targeting.
He also plays the classical statist game of fence-hopping from deontological to consequentialist libertarianism. Again, these are two very different philosophies. One is a normative ethical philosophy, the other a utilitarian economic philosophy. I have found that opponents of libertarianism are fond of shooting an accusation at one side and, while the libertarian is busy attempting to refute it, popping up with a strike on the other side, thus confusing the argument and causing the libertarian to appear as if he cannot keep up. None of this proves anything or has any logical value, but it plays well to the masses.
Since the article itself is so rife with fallacies, I figure I can afford to end my response to it with an ad hominem. I’ve noticed that one surefire way to identify someone who doesn’t know as much about libertarianism as they claim is that they capitalize the word “libertarian”; indeed, this author references the Libertarian Party a couple of times in this article. The capitalized “Libertarian” refers to a member of this party, not necessarily a proponent of libertarian philosophy.
And who is this guy? A Google search reveals he has no Wikipedia page. All I could find was that he does programming and stuff with birds, and this from a website that looks like it was designed in 1996, complete with tables for layout. The accompanying blog is a half-assed attempt at a WordPress installation. And this is the guy that is drawing people away from libertarianism?
I implore anyone researching libertarianism to find and explore valid objections to the philosophy, and not get caught up in such rubbish as this. I am convinced that those who ostensibly abandoned libertarianism based on this article were simply looking for a confirmation of their bias against it rather than rational arguments. As one dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge through study and reason, I urge everyone to question libertarianism, to shoot at it and chisel away at it. If it is sound, this will only strengthen it. If not, it will destroy it. It is a win/win situation.
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