Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.
Last updated 10/25/07.
Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( [email protected] ).
This document may be freely distributed for non-commercial purposes if it is reproduced in its textual entirety, with this notice intact.
Many USENET readers encounter libertarianism for the first time on USENET. Such unfamiliar claims might be quite difficult to judge if we haven't had the time to think of reasons why the claims might be false. This FAQ is intended to review a few common libertarian claims that seem wrong to newcomers, and present some arguments in opposition that show their shortcomings.
ABOUT THIS FAQ
The purpose of this FAQ is not to attack libertarianism, but some of the more fallacious arguments within it. That done, libertarians can then reformulate or reject these arguments. This is also needed to help people place libertarianism and its arguments in context. It is very hard to find any literature about libertarianism that was NOT written by its advocates. This isolation from normal political discourse makes it difficult to evaluate libertarian claims without much more research or analysis than most of us have time for. Compare this to (for example) the extensive literature of socialism and communism written by ideologues, scholars, pundits, etc. on all sides. Libertarianism is scantily analyzed outside its own movement. Let's fix that.
This particular FAQ is mostly a personal view of libertarianism. It is impossible to have an objective view of something like libertarianism, and it would be a mistake to presume this FAQ is. (Or that the FAQs written by proponents are.) It is also impossible for this FAQ to represent all the opposing positions to libertarianism, though I hope to see many future contributions from others. One notable failing (common to many libertarians as well) is that this FAQ is rather US-centric. All statements in this FAQ can be argued further by both sides, and indeed most have in several answers to this FAQ, available at the Critiques website. However, feel free to save a copy of this FAQ and cite from it. It may not be ultimate truth, but it can be a starting point for answers to libertarianism.
The editor and primary author, Mike Huben , has 20 years experience in debate over electronic networks. Much of that has been with religious believers and creationists, and this colors some of the arguments and examples. No judgement or personal offense is intended, though there is a substantial amount of ridicule of arguments (based in large part on my belief that it is the most effective antidote to pompous argument.) I welcome recommendations for alleviating offense while retaining the sense and humor of the arguments.
This FAQ is an unfinished work. Vast sections have yet to be created: as in talk.origins, we might expect perhaps 20 FAQs to eventually result. Only the first major section (Evangelism) has been written and included here. This FAQ is written in HTML, then converted to plain text for posting.
WHAT IS LIBERTARIANISM?
It's hard to clearly define libertarianism. "It's a dessert topping!" "No, it's a floor wax!" "Wait-- it's both!" It's a mixture of social philosophy, economic philosophy, a political party, and more. It would be unjust for me to try to characterize libertarianism too exactly: libertarians should be allowed to represent their own positions. At least two FAQs have been created by libertarians to introduce their positions. But the two major flavors are anarcho-capitalists (who want to eliminate political governments) and minarchists (who want to minimize government.) There are many more subtle flavorings, such as Austrian and Chicago economic schools, gold-bug, space cadets, Old-Right, paleo-libertarians, classical liberals, hard money, the Libertarian Party, influences from Ayn Rand, and others. An interesting survey is in chapter 36 of Marshall's "Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism", "The New Right and Anarcho-capitalism."
This diversity of libertarian viewpoints can make it quite difficult to have a coherent discussion with them, because an argument that is valid for or against one type of libertarianism may not apply to other types. This is a cause of much argument in alt.politics.libertarian: non-libertarians may feel that they have rebutted some libertarian point, but some other flavor libertarian may feel that his "one true libertarianism" doesn't have that flaw. These sorts of arguments can go on forever because both sides think they are winning. Thus, if you want to try to reduce the crosstalk, you're going to have to specify what flavor of libertarianism or which particular point of libertarianism you are arguing against.
Libertarians are a small group whose beliefs are unknown to and not accepted by the vast majority. They are utopian because there has never yet been a libertarian society (though one or two have come close to some libertarian ideas.) These two facts should not keep us from considering libertarian ideas seriously, however they do caution us about accepting them for practical purposes.