Friday, July 27, 2018

How To Argue With: A Libertarian

The Omnivore got a message this morning from a friend who had a Facebook argument with a libertarian. "Have you heard about this Marxist Hegelian postmodernism gibberish?" He asked. The answer is "yes--but only kinda." In fact, unless one is happy and willing to have a philosophical debate about Marxism and Libertarianism there is no need to ever go there.

To assist those who do not want to get down into the dangerous weeds, here is The Omnivore's: How To Debate A Libertarian.

It's A Pretty Simple Decision Tree

Roughly speaking there are two basic kinds of libertarians:

  1. People with emotional issues around being super smart, pretty racist, and liking weed.
  2. People who want to make the world better and honestly believe that the free-market and so on will do that.
In general it's about 98% to 2%. And not in the good way.

The Two Big Libertarian Problems: "Let Him Die" and "Communism Has Never Been Tried!"

In practice, when debating (coming into verbal contact with) a Type 1 Libertarian you should quickly zero in on one of two problems. The first is exemplified by the 2012 Republican Debate where Ron Paul was asked what to do with a sick guy who can't pay:
Wolf Blitzer put a terrific question to Rep. Ron Paul at last night's CNN/Tea Party Express Republican debate in Tampa, Fla. What should happen, the moderator asked hypothetically, if a healthy 30-year-old man who can afford insurance chooses not to buy it—and then becomes catastrophically ill and needs intensive care for six months? When Dr. Paul ducked, fondly recalling the good old days before Medicare and saying that we should all take responsibility for ourselves, Blitzer pressed the point. "But, Congressman, are you saying the society should just let him die?" At that point, the rabble erupted in cheers and whoops of "Yeah!"
This is, of course the hard-core reductionist libertarian decision on humanity and it's unpalatable to almost everyone with a drop of empathy (the working answer is that "somehow it'll work itself out [for white people I care about and fuck everyone else]')--but, if you don't accept wild handwaving, you get the crowd applauding this guy's death.

That, generally, ends the debate. They either sell out libertarianism or humanity.

The second mortal wound for philosophical libertarianism is the dancing-naked guy: when you put a critical mass of libertarians together in a room and try to build a party (out of the smartest, most objectivists uber-men that humanity has available, of course) one of them will take off their clothes and dance naked on stage trying to become the party nominee.

As a rule it will not be the most attractive libertarian in the room--or even the second most. No, you get the bottom of the barrel.

The point here is not the naked guy per-se, but the libertarians in general: When Ron Paul realized that the receptive audience for his message of glorious free-market-teering was white supremacists, he allowed his newsletters to sing the song of his people.

Today we can go back and read about the race war and shit. Although disavowed, Ron Paul's account keeps "making the same mistake" of tweeting racist shit to this day.

It, you know, doesn't seem like a mistake most people just keep making. No--the problem with any organized libertarian party isn't the philosophy, per se--it's the libertarians. When you realize this, you realize that Libertarians are, humiliatingly, in the same spaces as communists: they have to argue that "true libertarianism has never been tried!"

We don't buy that for commies. Why believe that some form of "true libertarianism" won't be hijacked by naked hairy lunatics or, erm, racists? Show The Omnivore that evidence first and then we can talk about Hegel.

It is worth making a point about women libertarians. They exist. If you run into one, ask if the libertarian movement as a whole is sexist: if you get an honest answer, skip the debate and just spend the rest of the time talking about that. You may learn something.

A Final Note: Some Good Ideas

The tag for this post is 'humor'--but of course it's a pretty pointed joke. The fact is that libertarianism does have some good ideas and markets are superior at some things. Dismissing all libertarian thought because of the usual standard bearers would be a mistake. If someone isn't committed to trying to push a utopian libertarian revolution, you might as well listen. There are plenty of good ideas out there and no one is immune to tribalism or some degree of partisanship.

But if they start talking Hegelian Postmodernism philosophy, make sure you ask if they have any pot: the chances are high they have a supply of the good stuff!


  1. I grew up in Arizona, where libertarians run free like wild rabbits. Most libertarians in AZ are essentially a variant on type #1, and I admit to thinking I was one until about age 18 or so....and honestly, if you hit your "mental maturity" around 16-18 libertarianism may remain a lifelong pursuit.

    Most libertarians I know in this group start off with a lack of navigable skills when it comes to dealing with entities of any sort: corporate, government, bureaucratic, you name it. They are averse to institutionalization and learning what it means to interact with and master these entities; why should they have to register their pickup, or get an emissions test? Why do you need a driver's license? Why the hell am I paying taxes? Etc Etc. It starts, essentially, with a selfish, narrow and honestly juvenile view of life that has not been tempered by having to coexist with the Real World until it abruptly bites you in the ass when a cop pulls you over. It thrives in AZ (or used to, this was long ago) because so many people grow up in small town, rural environments where you don't have too many initial run-ins with county or state level government, and the "feds" are those guys your crazy uncle in the militia is stockpiling against. Then you get some ticket for out-of-date license plates and you're pissed off that the man is making you jump through hoops. And then yeah, I'm sure drugs and pot play in to this in a big way I just didn't happen to interact with.

    This subtype of #1 libertarians are probably rife elsewhere but I think of them as the "I just wanna be left alone, man" types. They either don't want to figure out how to interact with the system, can't figure it out (too fried), or have been exposed to too much already predominant counter-culture of the unique militia kind you can find in back country AZ (and elsewhere, no doubt). They see libertarianism, like the idea that they don't have to pay for anything under that system, and seize on it like a life saver substiting for a life raft to a drowning man.

    These days, I can only imagine what it's like with a modicum of internet access and the echo chamber effect.

  2. My favorite example of the Libertarian clique's chauvinism is the right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife:

    "Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much money to the New Right?"
    "You fuc*ing Communist cu*t, get out of here."

    To see what he and his functionaries are doing, I recommend "Democracy In Chains" by the labor historian Nancy Maclean. Here is a summary by a sympathetic activist: ( Much like The New Jim Crow, the author details what ultimately is an astroturf movement of Southern Aristocrats to roll back civil rights. You can imagine how well-received it was by the pale fussy faction.

    Speaking of history, and just self-interest, I like to recall that communists were heavily involved in America's war on poverty. They went into Washington to pressure FDR and the result was civilizing American society. According to the historian Studs Terkel, people who would have been left to ride the railroads or join Al Capone suddenly had fresh linens and breakfast to eat and some income. ( This is the leading explanation for the drop in homicide from 1934 to 1937, government just cared about people, there was as sense of real hope that didn't get pushed back until Vietnam fractured the liberal-left alliance, and lefties started getting deported (

    I'm not stupid. I know about Mao and Stalin's complacency to human suffering, which were inflamed by ambitious 5-year industrial plans and militarism. Mass industry itself is prone to dehumanizing fantasies of efficiency, Fordism etc. And military culture likes to draw a picture of The Ideal (heterosexual male) Soldier, and war generally works better when people Heed (dogmatically) The Commander In Chief. Militant societies of every ideological stripe have these problems, although they undermine specifically the broad pluralism promised by Lenin to women, who are unlikely to be the victors in aggressive culture.

    This gets over-complicated by just bad writing habits, as George Orwell pointed out, and simple censorship. When Antonio Gramsci was in jail, he was not allowed to say "Marxism" so he called it "dialectical materialism." What he meant was that classes exist (materialism), and that society communicates and argues with itself through those classes (the dialectic). The most accessible summary of these concepts I have found is Paul D'Amato (

    I don't begrudge people for not dealing with Communism. It is already a complex subject, from Spain's fleeting success with democratic syndicalism, to top-down militarist Stalinism, reactionary Titoism, and all the half-liberal social democratic experiments in between, Norway, Denmark etc. which might be considered liberal state capitalism.

    A shorthand I like to use is as follows:

    Fascism: the state controls the worker
    Liberalism: the economy controls the worker
    Socialism: The worker controls the economy
    Communism: The worker controls the state

    Full disclosure: I once donated to the communist labor organizers in Haiti after the earthquake.