Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career and a passion for all things libertarian to become The Libertarian Opinionizer.
Commentary From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
“Why is libertarian philosophy unpopular?”
When Quora posted this question, they got 100+ responses. Some were from libertarians critiquing themselves but the majority came from the “asymmetric insight” crowd.
Writing in his book The Three Languages of Politics, Arnold Kling says, “The illusion of asymmetric insight makes it seem as though you know everyone else far better than they know you, and not only that, but you know them better than they know themselves.”
In other words, liberals “know” that while their own belief system is positive and correct, conservatives are totally fact-based money-grubbers and have no empathy. Meanwhile, conservatives “know” that while their own belief system is positive and correct, liberals are all feelings-driven snowflakes and lack common sense.
Book Break: Your Libertarian Opinionizer’s Pick
The Worst Conceit
It’s not only the “I am right and you are brainwashed” syndrome at work but an even worse conceit: the “I know you better than you know you” self-delusion.
When it comes to both liberals and conservatives claiming to “know” libertarianism better than libertarians know libertarianism, it’s a double-down conceit.
First, very few “libertarians” and non-libertarians alike seem to know that there is a libertarian philosophy. Most liberals conflate libertarians with Republicans, conservatives, right-wingers, and Tea Partiers, while most conservatives find libertarians too left-wing, radical, irrational, and utopian. Few have any idea that there is more to libertarianism than just politics and a political party.
Second, virtually every objection to libertarianism is based on the old false binary either/or fallacy—government or nothing. No alternatives are possible.
What follows is a very small sampling of the actual no-kidding claims by non-libertarians showcasing that they somehow magically know more about libertarianism than libertarians know about libertarianism.
The “Not true” responses below are just an introduction to the iceberg beneath the visible tip of the libertarian philosophy.
Mindlessly Reading Your Mind
Note: It would be nice to group these comments into neat separate categories such as Politics, Economics, Philosophy, Society, Culture, etc., but the general hostility toward libertarianism just doesn’t seem to work that way for most people. They hate everything equally.
“Libertarianism is essentially immature. Libertarianism is a kid who doesn’t want to be told what to do.”
Not true. Most responsible parents want their kids to grow up to be self-confident, self-motivated, and self-reliant. That would mean not wanting others to tell them what to do. It appears to libertarians that people who keep demanding bigger, more powerful, more authoritarian, more nanny-state Mommy-Daddy government substitutes telling them what to do are the real immature kids.
“We need government because no libertarian is self-sufficient in every way.”
Not true. No thoughtful libertarian would claim to be an island. The fundamental difference between collectivists and libertarians is that collectivists assume that human interactions should be coercively imposed in some way, typically top-down by government, while libertarians insist that human interactions be voluntary. Simply put, government isn’t about “sufficiency,” it’s about coercive power. It’s individuals who determine what is “sufficient” for themselves and others and interact accordingly.
“Libertarianism assumes that market forces always yield the best social outcome.”
Not true. Libertarianism only assumes that markets should be free from coercion, intimidation, and fraud. A market should be a place for the free, open, and voluntary exchange of all human social spheres including economics, religion, education, familial relations, media, sports, arts, entertainment, love & sex, and all of the humanitarian and charitable concerns. Whether or not markets yield the “best social outcomes” is up to the subjective values of each individual involved.
“Libertarianism assumes that any and all government action is evil, but that corporations and individuals will always act better than the government.”
Not true. When business people sign incorporation papers they by definition become extensions of government, receiving special treatment like protection from competition, limiting their legal liability for wrongdoing, receiving taxpayer-funded corporate welfare, getting bailed out because they’re “too big to fail,” and etc. In a free libertarian society, there is no government favoritism and therefore no corporations, just individuals and businesses interacting with one another.
“Libertarianism would be wonderful if everyone involved was ethical and honest. They aren't.”
Not true. Libertarianism doesn’t require everyone to be ethical and honest. The non-aggression principle only asks people not to initiate force, intimidation or fraud against one another, but because libertarians understand that not everyone is ethical and honest they retain the right to defend themselves with force when force, intimidation or fraud is initiated against them. Libertarianism is both idealistic and realistic; it requires both individual liberty and personal responsibility.
“Libertarians talk socially liberal, but they don't truly care about it.”
Not true. When libertarians talk about a free society they mean free in all aspects of life. No libertarian will prevent you from caring about socially liberal concerns and most will eagerly join you in your concerns. The only thing they will not do is attempt to coercively impose your social concerns on others or enable others who want to impose their concerns on you. Libertarians recognize that you, the individual, are the smallest minority in the world. That makes Libertarianism as socially liberal as it gets!
“Libertarianism is inherently hostile to most large groups and causes.”
Not true. Libertarian”ism” is neither hostile to nor accepting of groups, large or otherwise. Hostility is an individual human emotion based on personal values. Libertarians are only hostile to coercively imposed groups of any size. People should always be free to voluntarily join, participate in and freely leave groups. People do this all the time: join, stay in and leave the Boy or Girl Scouts, their churches, their jobs, professional societies, charitable institutions, social and cultural causes, even worldwide movements like libertarianism.
“The LP believes in a completely unregulated free market.”
Not true. Aside from the fact that the LP (Libertarian Party) and libertarianism in general are two different things a free market is always regulated. The “free” in “free market” means free from government regulation. Otherwise, all markets are thoroughly regulated by customers who “vote” with their money or their feet. A free market business must provide people with the goods or services they actually need or want at a price they can afford or the business will fail. The only thing government can actually do is use tax money to prop up businesses that produce things people don’t want.
“The closest thing to a libertarian country would be Somalia.”
Not true. This is a favorite ignorant stereotype for non-thinkers, right behind “Who will build the roads?” For the 1,000th time, Somalia is a failed former socialist military dictatorship with scores of nasty violent little warlord states that are utterly devoid of libertarian values because they are not based on the libertarian non-aggression principle. A warlord’s principle is aggression.
A Lesson for Libertarians too
The danger in all of this is of course that libertarians themselves often assert that they know liberals and conservatives better than liberals and conservatives know themselves. Actually, however, this is a bit more credible than the other way around.
Here’s why: There are still very few second and third generation libertarians around who grew up in libertarian households as opposed to people who grew up in liberal or conservative homes. That means most libertarians had to find their own way out of the overwhelming influences of those social and political environments. That actually makes most libertarians more adept at understanding the ideologies of their own former “others” than those “others” understand about them.
Still, that’s no excuse for thinking that anyone can magically psychoanalyze an entire individual personality based on a few elements of someone’s general belief system. The message to libertarians is this:
Beware “The illusion of asymmetric insight!” Don’t make assumptions about other individuals. Ask what they believe first and then understand that neither they nor you have all the answers.
Debate each other, don’t bait each other.
References and Links
More More More Why is libertarian philosophy unpopular? The responses on Quora just seem to keep growing, from libertarians and non-libertarians alike, from thoughtful insights to stereotypical clichés, and at this writing you can still add your own.
Asymmetric Insight Explained A long but critically important self-delusion that everyone must at least become aware of if not completely understand since otherwise none of us will ever be able to live voluntarily in a free society.
Battle of the Millennial Minds Libertarian Millennial “The Philosopher” responds to the “Roaming Millennial” superficial groupthink critique of libertarianism in an attempt to educate her about actual libertarian philosophy. There is hope for a libertarian future.
Libertarianism and the Common Good A very long article explaining how libertarianism is not only compatible with Catholic theology but how it morally and materially empowers all individuals in every aspect of personal and voluntary communal life.
Perfect Response to the Ideological Conceit Fallacy
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
OrinW on March 12, 2019:
Though Libertarian only since ‘14, my belief is:
1. We are 100% free to do anything.
2. We are 100% accountable for everything we do.
3. 100% of government’s job as “constituted” is to insure #1 and #2.
Garry Reed (author) from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas on March 07, 2019:
When you say "any minority in a population knows the majority better than the majority knows the minority" keep in mind that the individual is the smallest minority of all. It's why I've quit attempting to speak for "all libertarians" unless specifying that I'm speaking in generalities but otherwise I just speak for myself. That's why all my articles say "Commentary from your Libertarian Opinionizer."
Garry Reed (author) from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas on March 07, 2019:
When my wife wants me to do something she always says "I'll let you do this for me."
The reason I say ask is because we can't force anyone to do anything -- that would be against NAP. We can ask or tell or require or demand or persuade or any other non-coercive approach you want to take but of course there will be consequences if people violate NAP whether they agree with NAP or not since libertarians retain the right of self-defense if attacked. We obviously agree on that point if not the semantics involved.
aleroe on March 07, 2019:
Re: asymmetric insight, I think any minority in a population knows the majority better than the majority knows the minority. Jews in America know more about Christianity than Christians know about Judaism simply because Jews encounter Christianity far more than Christians encounter Judaism.
Similarly, libertarians - even second generation libertarians - encounter conservative and liberal ideas far more often than cons and libs encounter libertarian ideas. So yeah, we know them better than they know us.
And while it's presumptuous to claim that we know them better than they know themselves, we certainly see them from a different perspective than they see themselves. That can give us insights that they lack.
aleroe on March 07, 2019:
"The non-aggression principle only asks people not to initiate force": I don't like the word "asks".
"Ask" is a euphemism. Liberals talk about "asking" the rich to pay higher taxes. But they're not asking, they're telling. I even use this as a joke with my daughter. When I want her to take out the garbage, I say I'm "asking her in the governmental sense".
Same with the NAP. We're not "asking" people to behave peacefully; we're requiring it and there will be consequences if they don't.