Irish Liberty Forum

Some Guy’s Critique of Libertarianism

with one comment

Hat tip to feargach for linking to this piece. Apparently it’s a guide on how to argue using only logical fallacy.

But in all seriousness, let’s take a look at a few points the author makes against libertarianism:

The first fallacy [of libertarianism] is one I call the Fallacy of Revolution. It can be found in any movement that seeks to radically revise the underpinnings of society, whether by abolishing money, imposing a theocracy, eliminating undesirable ethnic groups, repealing all law, organizing everyone’s diet according to principles of macrobiotics, or whatever other secret of a perfect society any group comes up with… The fallacy can be expressed more or less as follows:

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.

Let’s set aside the association of libertarianism with communism, nihilism and ethnic cleansing for the moment. Does this carry any weight? Yes, and no. While a libertarian might claim that removing the root cause of many problems [government] will lead to overall betterment, it is a massive non sequitor to suggest that everything will work out right, and a perfect society will be achieved. I know of few libertarians who reason this way. A libertarian might point to a government price control as the cause of a shortage of good x, but by no means will the removal of the price control lead to a utopian society where everyone can possess good x.

The author continues:

The second fallacy is one that I personally refer to as the Libertarian Fallacy…It can be expressed as the idea that freedom is measured by absence of laws.  Another way of stating it is that only the government can restrict your rights.  (Some Libertarians strongly support this wording, saying that a law removes or restricts your rights, but a private entity can only infringe on your rights without changing them.)  To me, this is an artificial double standard, which labels a restraint on your freedom by one outfit in a completely different way than the same restraint by a different outfit, because one has the label of “government” and the other does not.  Indeed, much of the fabric of reasoning in Libertarianism is based on presuming that the government is uniquely unlike any other entity, and therefore must be judged by entirely different standards from how anything else is appraised.

Firstly, a government is a unique entity. It is at the helm of a territorial monopoly of coercion and ultimate-decision making. It unilaterally decides the price of its “services”. It is the final arbiter in all disputes, including disputes involving itself. You cannot legitimately refuse to participate in “trade” with the government. The libertarians appear to have a point. No private entity has these qualities, despite the Public Choice School’s attempts to portray the government as just another market firm.

It is also incorrect to suggest that libertarians claim that only governments can restrict your rights. After all, libertarians acknowledge the existence of private murderers, rapists, thieves and con-artists too. However these private actors don’t claim to be legitimate thieves, murderers and con-artists, whereas the government maintains the status of the sole legitimate rights violator, hence libertarians focus fervently on its removal.


To me, the question is how much power others have over you and how constrained your choice of actions is, not whether the constraint is by public action rather than private action.  In the viewpoint of those who hold this fallacy, what matters is how free you are on paper, not how free you are in what choices are actually open to you right now in real life.  According to this view, a destitute person with no public support is more free than one who gets some kind of pension or welfare, despite the fact that the latter is the one who can do many things that are closed off to the former.

The above paragraph appears to be putting words in the mouths of all libertarians. For example, I doubt that a libertarian would claim that one person can be more free than another. Both the destitute person and the welfare recipient can be free [absent of institutionalised coercion], or they could both be unfree. There’s no way of telling with the information given.

I’ve encountered the “free to starve” argument before, so I think I’ll leave the final knockdown blow to Rothbard:

…the “freedom-to-starve” argument rests on a basic confusion of “freedom” with “abundance of exchangeable goods.” The two must be kept conceptually distinct. Freedom is meaning fully definable only as absence of interpersonal restrictions. Robinson Crusoe on the desert island is absolutely free, since there is no other person to hinder him. But he is not necessarily living an abundant life; indeed, he is likely to be constantly on the verge of starvation. Whether or not man lives at the level of poverty or abundance depends upon the success that he and his ancestors have had in grappling with nature and in transforming naturally given resources into capital goods and consumers’ goods. The two problems, therefore, are logically separate. Crusoe is absolutely free, yet starving, while it is certainly possible, though not likely, for a given person at a given instant to be a slave while being kept in riches by his master.

This goes to show that we can assume that all critiques of libertarianism are a priori strawmen.

the “freedom-to-starve” argument rests on
a basic confusion of “freedom” with “abundance of exchangeable
goods.” The two must be kept conceptually distinct. Freedom

is meaningfully definable only as absence of interpersonal


Written by 20000miles

August 12, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Posted in education

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