‘Six Ways to Argue With a Libertarian’ REFUTED

In 1980, a Harvard student named William McKibben (now an environmentalist) published the article “Six Ways to Argue With a Libertarian” through the school newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. McKibben writes this article in response to the “libertarianism” of 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Ed Clark, who described libertarianism as “low-tax liberalism.” Ed Clark’s understanding of libertarianism is quite possibly lesser than Gary Johnson and Bill Weld’s, so it’s rather unfair to argue against libertarianism based on what Ed Clark has said. With that being said, nonetheless, the following is McKibben’s article, along with my refutation. For reference, I have bolded the text of my refutation. McKibben’s writing is standard.


LIBERTARIANS are a self-righteous lot (I had a feeling this article would start with an ad hominem as that’s the one tool the Left has against the philosophy of freedom); knowing full well they carry in their hip-pocket more political principle than most people have in their whole beings (implying that’s a bad thing. It’s okay to be principled in the world, Mr. McKibben. That may be hard for you to understand since you follow the ideals of statism.), they tend to press their advantage. And when they engage you in conversation, it’s no well-who-do-you-think-is-more-dangerous-Carter-or-Reagan sort of argument; before you can blink they will be talking natural right theory. Without some preparation, you might be embarassed; worse, you might be converted to a school of thought as noxious as any that exists. But libertarians can be beaten, or at least fought to a draw. What follows are a few simple suggestions, with thanks to Mr. Clark, Libertarian candidate for president.

Cede the Post Office

[1] Be Prepared. Libertarians, unlike most Americans, believe what they are saying, and are apt to get emotional. What you call taxation they will call “stealing.” When Clark writes of the draft, he can’t restrain himself: “A government that would try to draft (young people) would be little better than a kidnapper,” he states. When they talk about the ideal society, they’re apt to point to Espiritu Santo, a few square miles of sand that an American businessmen tried to turn into a bite-sized tax shelter earlier this year. If you leave yourself open, the tendency to analogy can overwhelm: “So you can steal (tax) the products of my body if you need them for something? Then why can’t you rape me if you need my body? What’s the difference?” As I said, libertarians believe. It’s better to let them call it theft. Just don’t forget you’re talking about form 1040. And always grant them the post office: as Clark recounts in his book, “In Rochester, New York, in 1976, the husband-and-wife team of Paul and Patricia Brennan started up a mail-delivery service. Originally motivated by frustration with the inefficiency of the U.S. Postal Service, the Brennans found that they could deliver mail within the city more quickly and at a lower cost than could the government–and still make a profit.” You won’t win this dispute, since everyone has had a letter lost by the U.S.P.S. at some time or other. Give up this ground; maybe your libertarian will get cocky. McKibben defeats the purpose of this entire article in the process of writing the first point. If one concedes that taxation is theft, they must concede that the State is immoral. If one concedes that the post office is inefficient, one must concede the State itself is inefficient. If the State can’t effectively deliver slips of paper, why would you want the State to have control of justice, police, roads, medicine, and any other industry statists don’t believe individuals can possibly control? McKibben grants the fact that the State is inherently evil and ineffective, thus defeating himself. In addition, McKibben fails to reference the principle of self ownership and private property. It seems that McKibben’s Harvard education has taught him to merely prove his opponent right by means of their talking points and to not even address the axioms behind the ideas.

A Minor Problem

[2] Foreign policy–here is where you can start to draw blood. Libertarians follow a strict non-interventionist line, but they will allow business to do as it will (This should go without saying, but libertarians believe individuals have the right to do as they will so long as they do not violate the rights of any other individuals. Libertarians don’t even believe in the notion of business action, as only individuals can act. Individuals within a business may act with a common goal in mind, but the principle that their actions must not violate the rights of any other individual). If their argument is that America should not force its beliefs on other peoples, ask them why they’d allow corporations to form their own armies (Clark promised they would have that privilege) (If a business raises an army, its stock would plummet as investors would likely feel that the businessmen are spending their capital on an army, not their commodity or ideas. One has the right to raise an army as that does not require the violation of anyone’s rights. But the moment that army intrudes upon the life liberty or property of any individual, that army has violated natural law. Once a people has been freed, to attempt to enslave them once more reaps the risk of the people defending themselves. In essence, if an army attempts to revoke the rights of individuals, those individuals are very likely to shoot the members of that army and ostracize the business and businesspeople that raised said army. Even if this fails, the worst case scenario is a return to statism. McKibben’s worst fear concerning the devolution of the State is that another State will replace it. It seems that McKibben doesn’t have an argument here.) .

And if they defend–as in most cases they will–the rights of companies to sell their products without control or review, ask them about the sale of nuclear weapons to foreign lands. “I guess I’d allow them; libertarianism is so good, it has to have a few flaws,” Clark said in a recent interview. (This problem wouldn’t exist were it not for government. If the State had not created the conditions that necessitated nuclear weaponry, I would not have had to address this point. This argument is a complete and full reductio ad absurdum as a result. For an in depth case on private nuclear ownership, I highly recommend Walter and Matthew Block’s Toward a Universal Libertarian Theory of Gun (Weapon) Control: a Spatial and Geographical Analysis (http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/theory_gun_control.pdf) Point out that it is only a few flaws of this magnitude that make this particular philosophy an unlikely candidate for long-term practical application. It seems McKibben has attained self-awareness in the revelation that his idea against libertarianism is entirely absurd speculation. It seems every flaw he finds in freedom is self-evident in statism.

Enlightened Self-Interest

[3] Domestic Policy–here is where you win. Libertarians believe in the deregulation of business, worshipping the free market as a sort of God. Libertarians respect the free market as it is proven to work through a petiori observation and is logically infallible through a prior deduction. It isn’t that we are blindly obedient to the market, it is that a market economy has proven itself time and time again. Remind your opponent that before regulation of business, industry did not exactly serve as an enlightened force in society. Upton Sinclair had plenty to write about when he turned his attention on the meat-packing industry; immigrants tended to die in apartment fires. If they want to argue that the present system is somehow different or if they start talking about how consumers can band together and start class action suits, then turn to Clark, P. 57: “I will remove the government from the nuclear fuel cycle, and utilities will be liable to any damage to life and property resulting from the conduct of their business and the disposal of spent fuel. One of two things will happen: Either a safe industry will emerge in the free market, or, if that is impossible, no industry will emerge. Either way, we will be safer than we are today.” Either that, or an unsafe industry will emerge in a free market, everyone will make buckets of money for a few years, and then a few midwestern cities will disappear in puffs of radioactive fog. Courts and all.

Once again with the reductio ad absurdum! It’s amazing how statists utilize the muckrakers of the progressive era to rebuke libertarianism. If only they realized it is the State that stops people like Sinclair from speaking out against the State and its favorite industries. I must wonder what McKibben thinks of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange. These individuals (now called whistleblowers) have been practically exiled, prosecuted, and persecuted against by the state that the Left so loves. The State has a long history of suppressing activists and especially whistleblowers. In addition, McKibben gives no credit to Sinclair for the halt in these evil actions. He gives the credit to the State by implying nothing would have been done if the State did not exist. It was the actions of Sinclair the individual that raised public awareness of injustice in the meat packing industry. To say nothing would be done is to say that individuals do not have the capability to act to stop an action (through say, boycott, ostracism, petition, strike, activism, etc) of which they do not approve.

But of course, is not the State just a collective of individuals? McKibben proves himself wrong on intervention once again. And to think an unsafe industry would emerge and grow to the extent of which it could level a city is absolutely ridiculous. It would be nearly impossible for a private firm to voluntarily acquire enough wealth to produce, store, and maintain nuclear deposits. Who would invest in that? McKibben may want to reconsider being an environmentalist and perhaps dabble in dadaist literature. He definitely has the wild imagination to be well qualified for that line of work.

In addition, libertarians advocate the end of the minimum wage. The guaranteed floor of $3.10 per hour is described by Clark as “legislation framed by politicians who seem to think it’s better to be on welfare than to hold down a low-paying job.” Or, you counter, by politicians who understand that it is impossible to eat on $1.75 an hour. Either McKibben has never read an economics text in his entire life or the economics classes at Harvard aren’t actually economics classes. Anyone with a background in economics can tell that price controls don’t work. Wages follow the same laws as all other price laws (kind of obvious considering wages are the price of labor). In addition, if $1.75 per hour is truly impossible to survive on, either the job isn’t meant for one’s survival or an employer is not offering that pay. Competition among businesses hold the ability to drive wages up for workers. In addition, it is up to the worker, or the group he/she joins, to negotiate wages with the employer. If one feels as though they aren’t paid enough, one ought to take that matter into their own hands, not run to an organization that will steal from the worker so that the business may pay him or her more.

Cheap But Effective

[4] If you’re a liberal, the libertarians think they will get you on civil liberties. We will. We don’t believe anyone has the right to steal from you. We win already. After all, no one stands more philosophically opposed to government discrimination no matter what a person’s religious, sexual, racial, or ethnic status than the libertarians. You can take two tacks. The first is cheap but effective: ask where Ed Clark, or his corporate vice-president or any other libertarian, was hanging out when the march on Selma was requiring the skulls of dedicated humanitarians. All those socialists, for chrissake, and no executives in any corporations. The Libertarian Party did not exist during the march on Selma (March 1965). The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971. In addition, the Civil Rights Movement was a revolution geared towards ending the racism which the State forced. Racism becomes an existential threat when the State implements it. One can empirically prove that statism is monumentally worse than racism. Or you can take the high road, and show how ridiculous the libertarian solution to the problem of discrimination is.

Ask if they want to make life easier for the average, say, homosexual. If they say yes, then quote Clark once more. While he advocates “an end to all laws that make crimes of voluntary homosexual acts and an end to police persecution of gays,” he also “opposes any legislation forcing the individual who is prejudiced against gay people to employ them in a private business, rent or sell an apartment or house to them, or allow them into his establishment.” So they’re allowed to screw (and how many are really prohibited from that today?) but if the owner of the corner store decides he hates “faggots” for whatever irrational reason he wants he can stop selling them loaves of bread. Don’t like Blacks? In Clark’s world, you set up your own school or bus company or mail service and announce that Black people’s letters will not be carried, their bodies not transported, their children not educated. If your libertarian opponent will admit that prejudice exists, he will be hard-pressed to show that segregation would not be the inevitable result of his perfect free market economy. Compare the benefits of segregation–freedom to hate as one wishes–with its disadvantages. Grab some passing minority-group member by the elbow, and ask if he’d enjoy living in a system that guaranteed his political freedom but allowed some rich white WASP to, say, exclude him from Harvard. Why is McKibben so dedicated to making it easier for a homosexual to accidentally fund a homophobe’s business? Why is McKibben so dedicated to making it easier for a minority to accidentally fund a racist’s business? I am a Christian. If an atheist refused to serve me in their establishment, I wouldn’t want to give them my funds anyway. In addition, segregation and discrimination makes no economic sense (even though you do have the right to discriminate). Discrimination in one’s business restricts the number of possible buyers, severely limiting the demand of one’s commodities.

You Can Lose the Argument… More like: “You Will Lose the Argument if You Listen to Me.”

[5] There are, of course, the unwinnable arguments. Chief among them is the libertarian notion that self-interest is at the root of all actions, and, for example, working for other people’s happiness can be explained away solely as an effort to assuage your conscience. By conceding self-interest, you effectively concede libertarianism to be the most compatible with the human condition. You will not win this stage of the quarrel. Libertarians, many of them, wear dollar signs on their ties. They read Ayn Rand, and think happiness is this valley where everybody makes profits–unless they’re unfit and hence lose money. All objectivists are not libertarians and all libertarians are not objectivists. This is a hasty generalization that severely weakens McKibben’s “argument.” Don’t bother calling them bloodless assholes (Yes. Please don’t. We recognize the legitimacy, morality, and necessity of private charity unlike the statists that are so dedicated to destroying one’s natural rights), because they think that being bloodless is a virtue (Name one libertarian who thinks emotionlessness is a virtue. Ayn Rand, by the way, was not a libertarian. She was actually very critical of libertarianism.) . They may even accuse you of being captive to your emotions; good libertarians don’t have any emotions, except rage that they’re being kidnapped, stolen from, raped, and so on. We also feel optimism due to the inevitable freedom of the future. It’s amazing actually. McKibben hasn’t attempted to utilize argumentation to debunk libertarianism (it’s actually impossible to do so as the principles of libertarianism is essential to argumentation). He more blew hot air for the sake of insulting individuals on a personal level rather than attack their ideas. And McKibben claims we’re the heartless ones. Oh the irony!

…But Not the Election

[6] Argument is not like a model submarine, and you’ve probably lost despite all the instructions. But if you still truly believe libertarians are wrong, there is an escape hatch. Sometime in the course of the conversation, make them admit that the liberties of the individual are paramount (“Ah, so you’re saying the liberties of the individual are paramount?” “Exactly!”). Then ask them how they could possibly consider voting in a presidential election. I mean, after all, is the tyranny of 50 per cent plus one any better than the tyranny of one? How can a group of people impose their will on any individual? Don’t you think it’s incredibly hypocritical of you to vote and give your support to a system that imposes its authority on individuals? Libertarians would rather be stolen, raped and kidnapped than hypocritical. Ed Clark will never win. Voting in self defense is a legitimate action. The political process exists whether we wish for it to or not. Without our action in the political process against the authoritarians of the Left and the Right, we become complacent in our demise. Libertarians must fight statism from all fronts, even from within the State. In addition, to revoke the privilege of imposing one’s will upon another person is not imposing our will on those people; it is restoring the natural order of things. Ed Clark didn’t win. Luckily. Ed Clark is not a libertarian. He doesn’t know what libertarianism is. He’s the Gary Johnson and Bill Weld of 1980. And regardless of the elections, the ideas of Liberty are winning ideas. They are expanding. They are being accepted. McKibben had better prepare for the free society we dream of. I doubt he can handle it. The Revolution is here. The Revolution is every person that pursues the cause of Liberty. Though I have a different meaning for it, Reagan’s quote: “We win. They lose.” is a perfect representation of the future of libertarianism.