Thursday, 8 October 2009

Does anyone (still) need another libertarian straw man?

There are so many straw men flung at libertarians that we must almost be eligible for some sort of agricultural subsidy. (This, in case you missed it, is irony).  And over at Dim Post right now most of the usual straw men are being flung by commenters there with all the usual abandon – on a post that somehow links the move by the un-libertarian Rodney Hide to do something or other about dogs to the supposed problems a libertarian would have with packs of wild animals.

Yes, risible, I know – but all the usual straw men are on display in the comments there.

So this prompted me to dig up and link to and old post by Jonathan Pearce at Samizdata who, with some of the Samizda commentariat, between them collected up some of the most common of the well-known libertarian straw men, most of them in evidence with the Dim Bulbs:

  • Free marketeers do not believe in law and rules of any kind.
  • If you are a skeptic about global warming and other alleged environmental terrors, you care nothing for future generations and might also be in the pay of Big Oil.
  • Libertarians believe in the idea that humans are born with a mental "blank slate" and hence pay no heed to inherited characteristics of any kind.
  • For capitalism to work successfully, everybody has to be obsessed with making money all the time.
  • Capitalism can only survive in an expanding economy.
  • Libertarians are uninterested in preserving certain old traditions and cultures.
  • Libertarians tend to be loners and discount the importance of community life.
  • If you've done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear from a state-sponsored identity card.
  • By opposing state ownership, libertarians are taking things away from people - education, healthcare, food from their mouths etc.
  • Libertarians talk as if every family lived on its own forty acres, and that everyone is more or less an equal player.
  • Libertarianism ignores the collective power of modern corporate capitalism.
  • Libertarianism is fantasy. The world needs pragmatic political and economic thought, not some deeply rationalist philosophy that has never, and will never, reflect the reality of the world we live in.
  • Both Marxist and libertarian may congratulate themselves on their superior and enlightened understanding of how society ought to be run...
  • ...It's a case of 'every man for himself', and devil take the hindmost...
  • An easy example of market failure in this regard is homeopathy ... yet the stuff still sells. This is is not rational behaviour.
  • Libertarians deny human nature ... in the Libertarian fantasy, once Libertarianism is brought about ... everything with go swimmingly.
  • The problem with economic libertarianism, is that it has to repress the human instinct to organise into collectives.
  • Libertarians would prefer to revert to a state where hired help was cheap and the person
    cleaning the street lived in a slum and had a life expectancy of 35.
  • Libertarians evidently want a pure abstract system where people make choices purely based on me me me.
  • Libertarians are all selfish bastards who want to see people dying in the street
  • Libertarianism lauds union-busting,but ignores the power of corporate collectivism.
  • The market was created and is sustained by 'government intervention'.
  • You don't believe in public education? You must want everyone to be uneducated!
  • A Libertarian is just a dumb conservative who wants to be able to do drugs and cheat on their wives without feeling guilty.

More straw men there than a thousand-acre field in Kansas. And just for the Dim Bulbs, these are things libertarians don’t agree with, okay.

Read rebuttals of most of those canards here in the original post and the comments thread (and in the many, many Cue Card Libertarianism posts down there on the right-hand sidebar) and feel free to post any others in the comments below – just as you did when I first posted this.


  1. My head hurts after reading through that thread. That danyl chap annoyed the crap out of me here with his inability to follow fairly simple reasoning and ignore anything said which didn't fit his reality. It seems his blog is full of the same sneering ignorance, and it saddens me that (to sum up the opinion stated by Shane P) that lot would rather just keep on sneering while the world turns to crap rather than try something new, and not founded in traditional left/right politics.

    I think the inability of most "internet people" to ever back down from their entrenched position is the most depressing part of blog comments, and perhaps also of the "offline" world also. Point scoring always seems more important to people than seeking out truth.

  2. @Greig: Human nature at its worst. Reality is, however, that sustained common sense and argument does eventually prevail, albeit sometimes only after the rational point of optimum result has long been passed by....

  3. Libertarians would prefer to revert to a state where hired help was cheap .

    Well of course this would be great - that's just common sense

    the person
    cleaning the street lived in a slum and had a life expectancy of 35.

    What the fuck is that to do with me!

  4. Here's one. "Libertarians eat babies".


  5. Greig

    Yes, one should always politely back down and compromise...

    Don't scare the horses.


  6. And don't forget to apologise for disagreeing with collectivists, fraudsters, thieves, cheats, coercive bullies and all the rest of the criminals.


  7. Bez

    Unfortunately there is nothing common about "common sense." Unfortunately there is no reason why "sustained common sense and argument" should eventually prevail. There is no "arrow of time" that necessarily points towards improved civilisation and greater advancement. Often the antithesis of the ideas required for civilisation become dominant with odious results. We are unlucky enough to live in a time where such ideas are prevalent. The debt incurred is beginning to come due.


  8. LG, I read Greig differently. I don't see his last para as being critical of those who advocate reason .. but rather those who do not! :)

    (Yes, Greig? No?)

    PC, you forgot about our promotion of a pro-homosexual agenda.

    Oh, and we're Progressives, too, remember?

  9. Sinner, you were an prat when you posted anonymously.

    Giving yourself a name has not altered your being an prat.

  10. Oh this is like a broken record. So timely and true this post.

    How to not engage in a debate, but use name calling and dismissive straw men to evade it. That is what this is about.

  11. Sus

    I read it differently from you then.


  12. Strawman #1:

    Libertarians assume that people are rational.

    If people were rational, then sure, libertarianism might have a chance.

    But the truth is, people aren't rational, and therefore libertarianism won't work.


    That one is funny on a number of levels. But most funny in that it's argued from the perspective of a statist - always wanting to make stuff "work"...

    I.E "Damn it, why don't these stupid people just do what they're *supposed* to do".

  13. I love the "people aren't rational, so we (statist and friends) can make decisions for them".

    That is basically the argument of all statists - most people are too stupid to make decisions on health, education, retirement etc for them - but politicians and bureaucrats, they are the switched on clever people who know what's best.

    A history lecturer was entrusted with billions of dollars of your money for the last 9 years, now it's a farmer.

  14. LGM - Sus is correct, I was criticising people who will hold to an emotive argument for the sake of ego or the argument, rather than seeking the rational truth of the matter. You can usually pick them by the ad hominem attacks and sneering. Dim Post is full of it. Unfortunately, sometimes it creeps in here too. I know I've been guilty of it at least once. Also, LGM, I try not to compromise with the odious ones. I might "back down", but that's only because sometimes the value equation for spending more time arguing a point with someone who will never "get it" just doesn't work. I also will back down (though never admit defeat, simply cease arguing) when the argument devolves into abuse. No point continuing with that. It's uncivilised and gets nowhere.

    Bez: I'm not sure that is true. Reality is simply reality. There's no implicit justice in it. It's a set of rules governing the physical behaviour behaviour of the universe. Humans are free to make any decisions they like within those rules, even self destructive ones. That's what collectivists tend to do. All we can do is point it out in a calm and rational manner, and hope they will see some sense and stop using the hammer of democracy to bludgeon our freedom and take our property away from us.

    Willie: Rationality is not a magic gift that only some can possess. It can be learned. I'd suggest that if "the state" stopped wiping people's asses for them and forced people to deal with the consequences of their actions instead of abstracting them away, rational behaviour would become extremely commonplace.

    People who say things like "people aren't rational, so libertarianism can never work" are mistaking cause and effect. If you drop a hammer on your toe, and I always snatch it away at the last minute, of course you'll never learn to be more careful with that hammer. If I'm not there to snatch it away, you'll become rational about the effects of dropped hammers on your toes pretty quickly I reckon. :)

  15. we must almost be eligible for some sort of agricultural subsidy.

    That's gold

  16. Libertarians and rich people have something in common...

    I have only met three of them in my lifetime! ha ha!

    As Peter points out you need to distinguish between unlibertarians and libertarians; you only need to read some of the things written about my good self by the wannabe Libertarians to find that is manifestly true; one suspects this Pearce fellow has been talking to the wrong chaps.

    The three libertarians I have ever met, along with myself, are most certainly in favour of "preserving certain old traditions and culture" ...hence our love of classical music, the English language and contempt for the dumbing down of New Zealand undertaken by the left.

  17. Greig

    Fair enough. I misunderstood what you were getting at.


  18. I am new to this - but find at times that entering debate with certain people is destructive - they remain unconsciously incompetent, and debate merely entrenches them further in their own position.

  19. "You can usually pick them by the ad hominem attacks and sneering. Dim Post is full of it .."

    Yep. Old Psycho Milt at No Minister gets quite shirty if you pick a bone with him. :)

    I've noticed that he'll never - ever - debate the particular example raised, (say, failure of state involvement in health or education), but return to the default position of criticising libertarianism, period.

    The latest was along the lines of:

    "Most people don't agree with your extreme ideology. Live with it."

    Hilarious. I might suggest that he just copy the phrase to paste in from hereonin to save him the bother of finding a new way to say the same thing.

    Who said we weren't caring?! ;)

  20. It's great that PC is engaging with intelligent, thoughtful folk like 'Lew' from Kiwipolitico on the Dim Post thread.

    Libz have spent far too much time listening to those on the Right who will never vote for them when it comes down to the wire - as recent election results attest.

  21. There are few and far between on the left who *do* wish to engage in dialogue, sadly.

    PC posted an article from last Monday's 'The Australian' by a socialist entitled:

    'A dose of libertarianism would enhance our democracy'. And did it engender any discussion?

    Don't be silly. They'd have to stop their sneering to do that.

    You give the left too much credit for any "intelligence", Ruth. In the main, they're every bit as dogmatic as the others.

  22. Further to my last comment, a pertinent quote from that article from Monash University's Tony Moore:

    "At the very least the Left should debate alternatives to the bureaucratic state that would enhance our say over services that affect our lives."

  23. 'A dose of libertarianism would enhance our democracy'. And did it engender any discussion?

    Why should it have? Maybe those on the left found nothing to disagree with.

    You give the left too much credit for any "intelligence", Ruth.

    I don't think so Sus. Even Rand said the left were more intelligent.

    I think YOU give the right - and their slack-jawed bloggers and readers - too much credit for any "intelligence". When someone compares Obama to Hitler/Mugabe/Idi Amin how intelligent can they be?

    I have yet to speak to anyone from the left side of the aisle who does not have some sympathy for libertarian views.

    PS Lineberry if you are reading: what has happened to your blog? Google tells me it is unsuitale for general consumption!

  24. Rand did say that, but some time ago, now. In the meantime, both left & right have morphed into quite different creatures.

    I'm no supporter of either, but I cannot see much thinking going on when proponents of a failed philosophy continue to doggedly promote it.

    "Why should it have? Maybe those on the left found nothing to disagree with."

    Discussion isn't limited to disagreement. The silence/ignorance demonstrated Greig's point re "sneering .. rather than try something new" beautifully.

    It's such a waste.

  25. As much as I hate to say it Sus, I'm not sure I agree with you here.

    The fact is, modern (American) conservatism is a very peculiar creature - at no other time in history, have conservatives purported to be in favour of capitalism and industry. Capitalism has always represented a threat to the beloved status quo to conservatives.

    Modern American conservatism supporting Capitalism and industry is an historical accident, due to the peculiar nature of the United States (esp. the founding fathers and their principles) compared to its European counterparts.

    Nevertheless, conservatives still try -and fail- to justify their support of capitalism in God and tradition. As Ayn Rand states in the video posted at this blog not long ago, this is simply not possible.

    Anyway, hoping to see you Saturday! :-)

  26. Cheers for that, Callum. And you're quite correct.

    Re-reading my last comment, I was ambiguous.

    I certainly didn't mean to suggest that the right (or the left, for that matter) had become smarter over the last few decades.

    On the contrary. I have little time for either.

    Re this weekend, I can't be there, sorry, so I look forward to your report! :)


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