Friday, December 18, 2009

No True Libertarian

"You say that your philosphy is strictly against any intervention in the economy. You say any intervention is a violation of your philosophy. Here is an intervention that I declare you like. If you disagree with me then you are engaging in the 'No True Scotsman' fallacy."

Everyone should be familiar with the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. It takes the form of someone denying that a potentially embarrassing member of a group is a member of a group at all. It is quite common in discussions of communism, where each and every despotic communist regime is said to be "not really communism." In rare occasions the defender of communist thought will try to label the system under discussion as capitalist because in the Soviet Union "there were a small number of rich people who owned and controlled everything and everyone else was poor."

"No True Scotsman" is useful for anyone who belongs to a group with active and vocal extremists committing acts that would embarrass the rest of the group. Communist regimes embarrass communists. The inquisition still embarrasses Christians.

But there is another fallacy, sort of a mirror image fallacy, that also comes into play. It is the "No True Libertarian" fallacy. It is not employed by members of the group under examination. It is employed by opponents of the group under examination. "You do not spit on the poor? You’re not a true libertarian." It gets its name because it was discovered in a debate in which someone who opposed libertarianism kept decrying his opponents of not being libertarian when they didn’t hold positions he said they should hold.

Various absurd positions that libertarians "should" take were brought up; embracing slavery, a willingness to turn family members into prostitutes, a desire to live in a world similar to "Mad Max" movies, etc. When people denied the extreme anti-libertarian positions, they were described as not real libertarians. And if libertarians point out that anti-libertarian positions are indeed not consistent with any form of libertarian thought, the anti-libertarians insist that means that libertarianism is nothing more than a pick and choose ideology.

So if a position that is inconsistent with libertarianism is said to be inconsistent with libertarianism, that means libertarianism is itself inconsistent?

According to all the attributes assigned to libertarians by those who oppose it, if one counts the number of libertarians who do not hold those ideas then there really are no true libertarians anywhere in the world.

Like last year, I urge people to give to the Salvation Army. As the economy worsens even more than last year, more people are in need of effective charity. I don't agree with them theologically, but I agree with the work they do. And since the FCC is asking us to reveal whether or not we receive any benefit from endorsements we make, it's none of their damn business.


Anonymous said...

The prob might be lots of soi-disant libertarians on the internet with inconsistent views. The critics probably refer to the much more consistent libertarian literature.

Ayn R. Key said...

If the critics were referring to the more consistent libertarian literature, they would not be making the accusations described in the post.