Micheal Shermer and Libertarianism

In this post, noted skeptic Micheal Shermer lays out his personal reasons for his Libertarian ideals. Now, I have nothing at all to say about his post, it is something that you must read and judge for yourself. I do, however, find the comments very (and you knew I was going to say this) interesting…

So, in the interests of fair play and from the lofty height of a truly detached perspective, I shall now weigh in on this epic conflict. Mostly however, I am just the sort of daft and argumentative fool who both loves pointing out hypocrisy in others and believes against all rational reason that anyone actually cares what I say. That said, let’s begin.

First up, I agree with at least one of the commenters that this could only happen when a largely American readership starts a discussion. Around here the words Liberal, Libertarian and Libralist all mean the same thing. The razor-fine distinctions between capitalism and the myriad other sects of self-determination (with all their conflicting cures for all social ills) seem to merge into a blur when faced with the stark reality that most people in South Africa are too poor to own anything much at all.

Secondly, as has been noted by others, economic politics bears a strong resemblance to religion. You either believe that the government is a force for good or evil (never mind that ‘government’ is such a broad term for such a lumbering and schizophrenic entity), that corporations are mankind’s salvation or the spawn of Satan himself. There seems to be very little middle ground, which is weird because there is no government on earth that is completely ‘ist or ‘ian. Even the Soviet Union had currency and businesses, albeit state-owned. Yet one thing everyone seems to agree on is that mixed economies are doomed to die a messy death. This is not conducive to polite discussion.

Thirdly, this discussion’s location is important. These are self-professed skeptics, people used to pointing out the rhetorical mistakes of others. Which makes it all the more puzzling that the ‘no true scotsman‘ and the slippery slope are in play. Strawmanning of both government and big business has been seen. But these are generic and uninteresting, so more topical arguments have been brought forward. My favourites so far (forgive me while I paraphrase shamelessly):

-Assert and evade

“My idea is right.”

“What proof do you have?”

“What proof do YOU have that your idea is right?”

“We aren’t talking about me.”

“We are now.”

-Arguing the extremes

“Soviet-style planning doesn’t work. Ergo, all governments don’t work”

-Blame the opposition

“When a mixed economy goes wrong, its all government’s fault.”

-Retroactive buck passing:

“Who will print money if government ceases to exist?”

“Businesses who everyone trusts.”

“But that won’t work. There will be no standard value to anything.”

“Then government can do it.”

Finally, I must admit to being confused by one of the central tenets of Libertarianism (at least, as it is revealed by the earstwhile posters). It goes something like this: Non-existent government is good government, as it means no taxation and no restrictions on freedom. But another fundamental tenet holds that all rights must be respected. How exactly do you settle a rights dispute with no higher body to arbitrate the conflict and make sure the letter of the law is obeyed? How do you trust the rulings of a mercenary judge or expect anyone to obey those rulings? And if a body is set up and paid to enforce rights universally, isn’t that just government by another name?

It occurs to me that making the ownership of a sword theoretically universal does not in any way prevent rule by the sword. Violence is, like it or not, the foundation of law. Giving a group of people a monopoly on violence (and thus law) makes sense in a democracy because at least they are easy to find. Worse than that, is the fact that people suck at thinking about the world without including the concept of someone to tell them what to do. It’s the reason why governments (which started as parasitic growths on the crops of farmers) began in the first place. Thinking that removing the apparatus of government will suddenly make people into fully self-determining rational actors is… optimistic.

That Libertarianism is a great idea is obvious. But then, so is Marxism. If you want to be honest about it though, become an anarchist. At least they don’t pretend they have all the answers.


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