So You Want To Discuss Libertarianism....

Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.

Last updated 11/29/10.

There's no shortage of people who want to discuss libertarianism. That's fine: there's lots to be learned in such discussions. But if you wish to actually benefit yourself or your partner in the discussion, there are some basics of discussion that will really help.

Understand the principles of discussion.

Know and recognize fallacies of logic and argument. Try to avoid using them yourself.
Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies.
The Atheism Web: Logic & Fallacies.
Logic And Argument. University of Victoria Writer's Guide.
How NOT to Talk! Conversational Terrorism.
A large list of easily recognized tactics of argument. Compare these to the posts of the noisiest libertarians.
Know and recognize principles of propaganda. Try to avoid using them yourself.
Propaganda Analysis.
Simple, clear descriptions of the techniques underlying the vast majority of libertarian argument. See especially "Unwarranted Extrapolations".
The Crisis of Public Reason
Phil Agre provides one of the most compact insights into modern public discourse ever written. And wallops Hayek in the process.
The New Jargon
Phil Agre discusses the rhetorical technology of association and projection used to subvert rationality in political argument.
Conservative Rhetoric
Phil Agre discusses the common patterns of conservative propaganda employed in the Florida Recounts. These are very commonly encountered interacting with libertarians, especially projection.
George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics.
Lakoff describes how conservatives have poured billions of dollars into the linguistic framing of issues. Orwellian.
The 'free market' doesn't exist.
Lakoff describes how the 'free market' is an example of linguistic framing.
Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber of the Center for Media and Democracy detail how what many of us consider "facts" are actually the result of large-scale corporate public relations and disinformation.
NEW 3/07: The Denialists' Deck of Cards: An Illustrated Taxonomy of Rhetoric Used to Frustrate Consumer Protection Efforts
Chris Jay Hoofnagle details the public relations methodology of CATO and other anti-consumer, business-funded organizations. Count how many of these you've heard on your favorite topic: global warming, for example.
Try to use the principle of charity.
Interpret your partner's argument to make it as good as possible, not as poor as possible. If you misinterpret because of this principle, you will be in a stronger position when you are corrected.
Necessary E-Mail Netiquette
Charity and a number of other principles.
Reasoning has limitations.
Claims to "reason" or "rationality" should not necessarily convince us. Our suspiscions should start with first, the circularity of justifying reason with reason.
Distrust in Logic
Why we cannot trust even logical arguments, and instead must subject them to critical judgement.
Skepticism of Rationality
Many Objectivists (libertarians too) think that their ideas are more "rational" than those of other people. Let's look at the term.
Legal Reasoning After Post-Modern Critiques of Reason
Philosopher Peter Suber provides an easily readable overview of 9 post-enlightenment critiques of reason in this academic article. Should be required reading for Objectivists.
Reason and Rationality
An overview of the modern understanding of these terms, written for the "Handbook of Epistemology". They're not what objectivists think.
Know your terms.
Definitions need to be agreed upon to have a clear argument. There are usually MANY definitions of any term; agree on one that allows the argument to proceed, or switch to another term if agreement can't be reached.
Liberalism Resurgent's Glossary Of Political And Economic Terms
Know your own position.
It's surprising how many liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and others have only a gut feeling or casual knowledge of their own position. You can start with:
NEW 4/10: Libertarianism
Karl Widerquist's encyclopedia entry from "The International Encyclopedia of Public Policy". Discusses the basis and policies of left, right, and socialist libertarianism.
Resources Of Interest.
What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?
Phil Agre reminds us of the basics of conservatism. [Libertarianism is conservative because it would create a market-based aristocracy that conflicts with democracy.] A must read!
Base your arguments on knowledge, rather than your own say so.
If you think it's so, confirm it by looking it up, rather than arguing about it. It's all too easy and tempting to make claims based on opinion, but we all frequently form mistaken opinions.
Even if it's in a book or on the web, it may not be true.
There are vast numbers of recorded claims in books and other media that have been soundly refuted; find out what the counter claims are and which you should give more credence.
Remember what has gone on before.
It is dishonest to ignore the context of prior exchanges. Remember what both your partner and you have said. Memory is brief only in verbal argument, written copies can show you to be forgetful. If you don't want to be consistent, it's OK as long as it's above board.
Broad claims tend to be very weak.
There may be counter examples, better alternative explanations, or just plain little support beyond coincidence. Frequently, broad claims arise in propaganda or rhetoric rather than in careful analysis. Be suspicious of such claims, and treat them more as hypotheses than facts.
Admit when you've been wrong.
You'll be admired for your honesty, and will then have a point of agreement as a basis for further discussions. Not having a counter-argument is different than being wrong; there's no shame in saying you don't know yet, and you don't need to accept your partner's claim.
Don't interpret delays in answering as "winning".
It is not uncommon for new arguments to need years to be assessed for validity, even among professional scientists, philosophers, etc. Suspended judgement and skepticism are very valid responses.

These are just informal, off-the-cuff principles for good discussion: doubtless we can find lots of other candidates and improvements for this list.

There are also some basics that are very important to sophisticated discussion of libertarianism.

Basics for libertarian discussion.

Countering Libertarianism and Neoliberalism
This is a short Amazon list of books that get to the heart of the problems of libertarian views. Some are described further below.
A basic textbook understanding will demystify many libertarian claims. You don't have to do the math; just understand the principles, their assumptions, and what happens when the assumptions are not met. Good texts provide several points of view on some issues relevant to libertarianism.
Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets
By Robert Kuttner. The "must read" for arguing with libertarians.
The Economics of the Welfare State
By Nicholas Barr. A college text that provides the mainstream economics background for defending the welfare state against libertarians.
Legal and Social Studies.
Understand our system of governance and legal system. Also, history, anthropology, news, and studies of other nations will all help us rise above normal American ignorance of alternatives to our own system BESIDES libertarianism.
The Progressive Assault On Laissez Faire: Robert Hale And The First Law And Economics Movement.
The best work for understanding the reasons for the Progressive Era reforms that libertarians rail against. It turns out that most libertarian free-market arguments are resurrected from the 19th century, and were rejected in the early 20th for sound reasons.
Libertarianism, Property & Harm.
Chapter 2 of James Boyle's unpublished "Net Total: Law, Politics and Property in Cyberspace". Thoroughly dismantles three libertarian approaches to the problem of harms: [common] law, natural rights, and property.
Original Intent And The Constitution.
The beginning of a page on the problems with ideas of "Original Intent" of the founders, a conservative propaganda ploy much favored by libertarians. The first segment is taken from A Process of Denial: Bork and Post-Modern Conservatism by James Boyle.
Encyclopedia Of Law And Economics: Contents
Some excellent summations of the research on a variety of subjects. Seems non-ideological. See especially The Coase Theorem (PDF) and Takings (PDF).
It's beyond basics in difficulty, but sometimes necessary to counter popularized libertarian philosophy.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Libertarianism
A well-balanced, non-propaganda overview of right and left libertarianism, presenting some of the major issues.
The Machinery of Freedom: Chapter 41: Problems.
David Friedman's straightforward critique of the fundamental failing of most libertarian philosophical thought.
A Positive Account of Property Rights.
David Friedman's persuasive essay about the nature of rights, which incidentally dismisses most libertarian notions of rights, including natural and negative rights.
Human Rights: Chimeras In Sheep's Clothing?
Professor Andrew Heard's overview of the origin, nature, and content of human rights.
Critique of the Doctrine of Inalienable, Natural Rights
Jeremy Bentham, founder of utilitarianism, explains why natural rights are "nonsense on stilts", and points out that every right destroys some liberty.
Criticisms of Robert Nozick and "Anarchy, State, and Utopia".
The foremost philosophy of libertarianism has been thoroughly discredited. This is an index of articles and references.
"What's Wrong With Libertarianism" [PDF]
"The Libertarian Straddle: Rejoinder to Palmer and Sciabarra" [PDF]
Jeffrey Friedman, editor of Critical Review magazine, details how libertarian philosophy and economics rely on each other, and neither can bear the weight.
Criticisms of Objectivism (or Ayn Rand).
Ayn Rand was a truculent, domineering cult-leader, whose Objectivist pseudo-philosophy attempts to ensnare adolescents with heroic fiction about righteous capitalists. This is an index of articles and references.
Contemporary Political Philosophy
By Will Kymlicka. Specifically dissects many libertarian claims (mostly those of Nozick) for 65 pages.
Game Theory and Social Dilemmas.
These are basically conflicts of interest that can cause worse results than we'd expect if we presume cooperation. The most famous one is the Prisoner's Dilemma. In discussions about these, the question to keep in mind is why the system we have works as well as it does, instead of much worse. The answer is quantitative, not qualitative.
Game Theory
Economist Roger McCain shows how game theory applies to economics in a non-technical manner.
The Social Dilemmas
Leon Felkins provides good explanations of the dilemmas, though he fails to even wonder why our solutions work as well as they do.

The links provided here are my own pick, and may not be unbiased. Please feel free to suggest other appropriate links.

Counter image omitted.

Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( ).
This document may be freely distributed for non-commercial purposes if it is reproduced in its textual entirety, with this notice intact.