Thursday, August 30, 2007
The Case Against Libertarianism
In the process of answering a commenter , Amit Ghate has made the best plain-language and relatively short case against libertarianism I have ever seen.
[F]aced with an unsupported or improperly supported answer, no one in the sciences would say: "who cares, we have the same result, so why can't we all just get along and ignore the 'trivial' difference in how we arrived at it." Anyone with any regard for science guards the process and methods much more fervently than he guards any one particular result -- because only with the proper method can one arrive at truth and advance knowledge (including rooting out any innocent errors that one may make along the way). Without method -- or even worse, dismissing method, data, premises and logic as irrelevant -- one not only has no claim to the term "conclusion", but more importantly, one becomes the wholesale enemy of knowledge itself. And this is precisely the case with the libertarian movement....This ties in quite well with a short comment I made recently regarding the problem of intellectual context for aphorisms and with a more lengthy discussion of my own regarding the snide comments libertarians often make about disputes within the Objectivist movement.
The only "Objectivist twist" on all of this is that, in this day and age, only Objectivists seem to apply the principles generally accepted within the sciences to the humanities. That is, Objectivists holds philosophy to be a field of knowledge and as such maintain that it must arrive at its conclusions by a proper method. The essence of this method consists in abstracting concepts from their referents in reality, initially via sense perception, and then continuing with new identifications and wider abstractions and generalizations, all the while ensuring that the growing body of knowledge is logically verified and integrated. Acquiring knowledge is thus a painstaking and demanding task, but nothing less can result in truth or meaning.
"Impediments" to the Libertarian Movement
As if to provide an example in support of Amit Ghate's point, Mark Hendrickson of FrontPage Magazine bemoans the divisiveness within the libertarian movement, citing the many incompatible philosophic beliefs (and conclusions) of its various adherents and asking, basically, "Why can't we all just get along?" in the process.
The fact that there is only one actual meaning of "liberty" and only one philosophic way of getting to it lends a certain surface credibility to Hendrickson's charges that more consistent libertarians are hurting the cause of freedom by arguing for greater ideological consistency. After all, when so many people are wrong in so many ways, those who want to wish away the need for objectivity in political thought have an easy time dismissing arguments as such as unimportant because of all the confusion they can point to.
This provides cover for one of the movement's greatest sins: confusing the virtue of political tolerance with the vice of epistemological tolerance (i.e., sloppiness). To insist on another person meaning the same thing before allying with him in a movement is a far cry from wishing to quash dissent through the apparatus of the government, and yet many libertarians draw analogies between the two all the time.
Pretending that ideas that would destroy freedom if put into practice are compatible with promoting liberty will not, as Hendrickson puts it, "quit allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the better." It will merely allow the incorrect to continue being the enemy of the good.
The libertarian movement, with its rejection of objectivity in the realm of political philosophy, is an impediment to liberty. It is too bad that its impotence in the political realm is not matched by a lack of influence on the public debate. Alas, it is easier to destroy than to build. The confusion they sow makes it far more difficult for those of us who actually do promote liberty (because we really know what it is) to gain and keep the enormous value that is political freedom.
Stop by Spark a Synapse and see an idiot who drives with a horn rather than a brain get what's coming to him.