There’s become something of a cottage industry recently of blogs listing “questions libertarians can’t answer” or “knockdown arguments” against libertarianism (see Salon, The New York Times, Psychology Today, Bloomberg, et al). Having read an impressive fraction of these articles, I’ve concluded that most of their authors do not have a clue what libertarianism actually is.
They remind of nothing so much as religious people confidently demanding atheists answer such “damning questions” as: Why is there something rather than nothing?, How can you be good without God?, Can you prove there is no God?, Why are you so angry?, If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?, etc.
The only way you can honestly believe there are no answers to these questions is if you’ve never spoken to a nonbeliever before. Nonbelievers in political power are now facing the same kind of defiant ignorance.
I conclude this not because I want to dismiss all critics of libertarianism–to the contrary, I want to engage with them–but the kind of lazy “gotcha” questions preferred by liberal bloggers tend to be logically malformed, based on false premises, or have answers that are readily available to anyone who bothered to research them (or even just Google it).
Moreover, such questions do not seem to be asked in good faith. They assume libertarians are fools, who have not bothered to think about the most basic philosophical or practical implications of their ideas (“Oh. My. God. You’re right! Who would build the roads?! Why didn’t we think of that before?”), or that we’re knaves, who know our philosophy is fundamentally flawed but have deliberately chosen to ignore it.
Rarely do I see these pop political theorists entertain the possibility that libertarian thinkers might have thought seriously about our philosophy and spent many years (and much ink) grappling with difficult questions. Rarely do I see them attempt to look for answers before declaring that there aren’t any. Rarely do I encounter critics who could pass an Ideological Turing Test.
It may well be that our answers are factually wrong, morally confused, or illogical–far be it from me to suggest we have The One True Ideology™. But answers exist. Why not deal with them? Why, if you truly wanted to disprove libertarianism, wouldn’t you try to engage with what libertarians actually believe? Serious intellectual critiques of libertarian ideas exist, so what is gained by strawmanning them, other than to have a convenient icon to torch?
My fellow travelers and I are happy rise to the defense of free markets and libertarianism, even while many of its critics prefer to fire wildly into the dark, with a gun shooting blanks. But, in the words of Malcolm Reynolds, I’d prefer they “be awake, be facing me, and be armed.”
PS: Inspired by the “QQOQQ”, I’d like to nominate Michael Lind for the 2013 “Defiance In Ignorance Prize,” awarded for the dumbest question asked in the arrogant expectation that there can be no possible answer.