Skepticism and Libertarianism Reading List

Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.

Last updated 10/25/07.

Skeptical Enquirer magazine recently published an article, "Skepticism and Politics" by Barry Fagin, that blatantly endorsed libertarian views as appropriate for skeptics. This deliberate, propagandistic placement of political opinion within the normally scientific Skeptical Enquirer was very irksome to many long-time readers.

The following is a letter recently sent to the editor of Skeptical Enquirer by one such reader, who signed his letter but mysteriously asked that his name not be appended here.

April 16, 1997

Kendrick Frazier, Editor
Skeptical Inquirer
944 Deer Drive NE
Albuquerque, NM 87122

Dear Mr. Frazier:

Don't know what a paean of praise to libertarianism is doing in SI ( "Skepticism and Politics" by Barry Fagin ), but as long as it has appeared I would like to present to readers a few sources which will bring a little balance to the discussion.

Rational Choice theory has been subjected to devastating criticism. For systematic treatments see:
"Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory", by Donald P. Green & Ian Shapiro (Yale University Press, 1994); "Law and Public Choice", by Daniel A. Farber and Philip P. Frickey (University of Chicago Press, 1991); and "The Rational Choice Controversy: Economic Models of Politics Reconsidered", edited by Jeffrey Friedman (Yale University Press, 1996).

For a defense of the mixed economy, see:
"Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets", by Robert Kuttner (Alfred A. Knopf, 1997). Think about that title: libertarians are suggesting we do just that. One writer even seriously suggested that we privatize streets and then went on to speculate about how a price could be set for intersections and stoplights.

For a defense of governments, see:
"The Search for Government Efficiency: From Hubris to Helplessness", by George W. Downs and Patrick D. Larkey (Random House, 1986) and "The Case for Bureaucracy: A Public Administration Polemic", by Charles T. Goodsell (Chatham House, 1994).

For a defense of social regulation, see:
"Freedom from Harm: The Civilizing Influence of Health, Safety and Environmental Regulation", by David Bollier and Joan Claybrooke (Public Citizen and Democracy Project, 1986) and "The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law, and the Environment", by Mark Sagoff (Cambridge University Press, 1988). The first is a practical defense while the second is a philosophical one.

For a scholarly and balanced study of the market, see:
"Ethics, Efficiency, and the Market", by Allen Buchanan (Rowman & Littlefield, 1985). See especially chapter three: "Moral Arguments For and Against the Market."

At bottom libertarians hate and despise democracy and deny the existence of the common good. The literature on democracy is vast but begin with:
"American Democracy in Peril: Seven Challenges to America's Future", by William E. Hudson (Chatham House, 1996). One challenge is the radical individualism of libertarianism. See also: "Democracy and Its Critics", by Robert A. Dahl (Yale University Press, 1989).

Missing from Mr. Fagin's account is any reference to one of the central realities of social and political life: "power." Much of Political Science is devoted to the study of its manifestation in the public sector, but for case studies of its exercise in the private sector, see:
"In the Name of Profit", by Robert L. Heilbroner et al. (Doubleday, 1972) and "Corporate Crime and Violence: Big Business Power and the Abuse of the Public Trust", by Russell Mokhiber (Sierra Club Books, 1988).

There is a libertarian fantasy that until the twentieth century the American state left private property owners and economic entrepreneurs alone. To set the historical record straight, see:
"The People's Welfare: Law & Regulation in Ninetenth-Century American", by William J. Novak (University of North Carolina Press, 1996). While you are at it, see: "We Always Stood on Our Own Two Feet: Self-reliance and the American Family," in "The Way We Never Were", by Stephanie Coontz (Basic Books, 1992).

For a philosophical defense of the welfare state, see:
"Reasons for Welfare: The Political Theory of the Welfare State", by Robert E. Goodin (Princeton University Press, 1988).

For a critique of libertarianism, see:
"Anti-Libertarianism: Markets, Philosophy and Myth", by Alan Haworth (Routledge, 1994).

Finally, I will close with an example from history of the clash of the two competing theories about reasonable use of public policy. By far the most disturbing problem in seventeenth-century Monte Lupo, Italy, was the plague. On the one side were public health officials who correctly theorized from empirical study that the spread of the disease could be checked by enforcing a policy of quarantine and segregation on the populace.

On the other side were the town's individualists who detested the coercion of public action and believed that that the plague was a scourge sent by God to punish the people. They urged that everyone be brought together in massive religious processions and rituals to atone for their sins. Unfortunately, this individualistic, (libertarian, if you wish), solution was implemented with predictable results. After all what do those dumb public health bureaucrats know about anything.1


"Just shy, I guess."

1 Cipolla, Carlo M. Faith, Reason, and the Plague in Seventeenth Century Tuscany (Cornell University Press, 1979) as cited in Greer, Douglass F. Business, Government, and Society. 3rd. ed. (Macmillan, 1993), p.4.

Counter image omitted.

Copyright 2007 by Mike Huben ( ).
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