« What Southgate teaches us | Main | On class separation »

July 10, 2018



Yes, because of the discrepancies between declared aims and observed behaviour, a "think piece" authored by those of the libertarian ilk signals to me to stop reading.

Moreover, Libertarians often don't know what they're talking about when they choose to lecture us "hignorant" mortals on matters that interest them. For example,the director of the iea recently asserted to me that firms pay VAT!


Brilliant. Comprehensive.

The only point I'd disagree with is this:

"Of course, this isn’t true of all or perhaps even most right-libertarians."

I've yet to meet one of whom this *is* true. There are, I suppose, 'libertarians' of whom this is true. But 'right-libertarians'? Nope.

Dave Timoney

"I sense they would rather defend property than freedom".

I think that hits the nail on the head. Just as the social history of Europe produced anarchism, so the particular circumstances of the US (an elite conception of liberty and a belief in the abundance of property) produced libertarianism.

It is less a philosophy than a contingent rationalisation of white privilege and the defence of wealth as public virtue. Right-libertarians are more accurately propertarians, while left-libertarians (and the bleeding heart school) are just classical liberals who want to appear edgy.


"I sense they would rather defend property than freedom"

I don't know if you are doing a coy "just asking questions" thing here as a rhetorical technique. Because one should get more than a "sense" libertarians would rather defend property than freedom. They are pretty clear they see property and freedom as inseparable and that any attempts to limit property rights must, by definition, limit freedom.

So in any scenario where "property" is pitted against "freedom", the libertarian will always go with property because for them it's literally impossible to increase freedom by limiting property.

Matthew Moore

'despite the fact that no correlation between IQ and life-outcomes suffices to justify our social system'

Thanks for making Hannan's point for him. You have misunderstood the interest, attributing malicious motive where it only rarely exists.

Libertarians are typically interested in IQ because (i) it varies a lot between societies (ii) it is very casual in making societies as a whole rich (iii) lots of environmental factors affect it.

The interest is in making policy that raises national IQ, creating more wealth for all, not justifying any existing distribution.


"Just as the social history of Europe produced anarchism, so the particular circumstances of the US (an elite conception of liberty and a belief in the abundance of property) produced libertarianism."

Actually, it was a French anarchist who coined the term "libertaire" in 1857 (in America, though) and he used to urge Proudhon to become a communist rather than a market socialist:


The American right deliberately stole the word "libertarian" from the left around 100 years after it was coined and long after anarchists had been using it. As Murray Rothbard happily admitted:

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence [in the late 1950s] is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy […] ‘Libertarians’ […] had long been simply a polite word for left-wing [sic!] anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over, and more properly from the view of etymology; since we were proponents of individual liberty and therefore of the individual’s right to his property.” (The Betrayal of the American Right, 83)

They are meant to be against that sort of thing, but obviously as with actually existing capitalism exceptions are made...

Still, it is always amusing to see the propertarians play the populist card -- then they go back to being shrills for the wealthy.

Matthew Moore

'Democratic control of workplaces can do a similar thing [to market prices]'

Why are you comparing internal organisational decision making to between organisations?


Quite so. Most want to entrench hierarchy in the golden rule, those with the gold make the rules. They also see market imperfections not as problems to be solved, but opportunities to be exploited, and not above exploiting them to reinforce the powerful. Taking advantage of others is just putting their own talents to work, and money and power belong to the able and willing.

Kevin Carson

One reason right-libertarians see "property" as the root of freedom is that they frame it as a neutral institution in some mythical Lockean Robinsonade about "initial appropriation," and ignore the real-world origin of virtually all large concentrations of property in robbery and enclosure.

Richard Gadsden

Why are you comparing internal organisational decision making to between organisations?

Why not?

Tynnie Todgers

Strange, isn't it? The more they deny that they're shills and dupes of the rich, the more everyone thinks they're just shills and dupes of the rich.

Perhaps some philanthropist could help them with a load of think tanks and websites?


Ze'ev Sternhell makes the really good point, in the introduction of The Birth of Fascist Ideology, that there is an important difference between liberalism and liberal democracy; classical liberalism - of which libertarianism is a subset - is explicitly not a doctrine of democracy but one of authority. The authority is exercised in a negative sense, but it is nonetheless authority.

Mike W

'I sense they would rather defend property than freedom.'

Agreed, and I don't have anything further to add to the excellent posts above, which develop this point. This 'property rights are central' mantra is always made explicict by Hayekian, Libertarians themselves. NeoLib market economics then sits on top of this position.

'Of course, you can point me to exceptions to this. My impression, though, is that that’s just what they are – exceptions.

I will just add one important observation to this. There are one group of Libertairian (Hayekians, etc)who have transcended the contradictions of the position above. These are the growing numbers of Libertarian's who advocate Henry George/ LVT. In fact Georgism is a rather interesting position where Liberals, Left Democrats actually meet and frame a coherent alternative to the normal Marx/ Hayek battle lines. Georgists arguing, of course, that the factor land, belongs to no one or everyone.

David Friedman

"Democratic control of workplaces can do a similar thing. Logically, right-libertarians should therefore support worker coops."

Unless the number of workers in the workplace is small, this runs into the same problems as political democracy—majority vote is a much clumsier mechanism for aggregating preferences than voluntary exchange. I don't think libertarians, as a rule, have any objection to small firms that that are set up as coops, and the objection to large firms set up that way is not that they are immoral but only that it isn't likely to work very well.

On immigration, it's true that some libertarians construct arguments to support restrictions. On the other hand, libertarians are the only group I am familiar with where a full open borders position is reasonably common. In the U.S., my impression is that people on the left are happy to complain about the enforcement of immigration restrictions, but very few are willing to explicitly support open borders.

Tynnie Todgers

"(Democratic control of workplaces) runs into the same problems as political democracy—majority vote is a much clumsier mechanism for aggregating preferences than voluntary exchange."

Not for aggregating worker preferences, which will otherwise tend to be overridden by the employer's superior bargaining power. The labour market is nothing like a supermarket.


My favorite blog post of the year, albeit unintentionally. It is rare that you get to see such an explicit example of a tribal group bashing another tribe because they don’t share their beliefs and cognitive blind spots.

It is like listening in on a group of drunk Catholics bashing Protestants because they associate with priests, are shills for print shop owners, don’t wear Rosary beads, don’t worship the Virgin Mary, and are rarely if ever seen in Confession.

I invite everyone to reread this article and ask yourself if it tells you more about the biases, quirks and blind spots of libertarians or progressives.



My impression is that right-libertarians frequently align themselves with authoritarian types. As far as I can tell, the primary right desired by authoritarians is the right to abuse others. In enabling this, the hierarchy of private property(wealth) in right-libertarianism plays a pivotal role.


Libertarians are agents of influence for the billionaires who usually pay them; who sell feudalism and dependency on their paymasters as "freedom"for the majority. Scratch the surface and fascism is there for all to see.

Josh Colletta

I'm not so sure we're bad at explaining ourselves, it's just that the fake "libertarians" tend to be louder noisemakers than we are. There's been too much focus over the decades to define ourselves as the "intellectual" conservatives -- not focused on intelligence itself, but on in-depth analysis of causes and solutions -- that we mostly sit back in the quiet shadows and hope that our sense of moral superiority will be what everyone else senses about us, too. That just doesn't work. We have to get out there and say "hey, this is where we stand, this is why, and we think that, when it comes right down to the basics, you'll agree with us." That's it. That's all we really have to do. Have the conversation and define ourselves away from the elements that directly contradict true libertarianism. That's all there is to it.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad