Scourge of the Libertarians: Interview with Mike Huben

Scourge of the Libertarians: Interview with Mike Huben
  • I don't seem to have any non-libertarian conservative friends anymore. Everybody calls himself a libertarian these days. Even Sean Hannity says he's gone through a libertarian evolution. In a way, this is not a new phenomenon, since even conservative icon William F. Buckley used to call himself a libertarian. But we didn't hear as much about libertarian leanings when we went into the Iraq War or when gay marriage was used as an issue to defeat Democrats in 2004. "Leaning libertarian" seems to have gained in popularity since then among conservatives, Ron Paul and his son have become political rock stars, and we've all been hearing from hardcore libertarians about their economic beliefs.

    Liberals are always busy debating against the merits of conservatism, so they don't always get to libertarianism. I wanted to bring in somebody who does make sure that ideology is responded to so folks can get a different perspective on the ideology from what the devotees say about it, skeptic Mike Huben. Mike is the editor of the largest collection of critiques of libertarianism on the Internet ( ) which in 10 days will experience its 19th birthday and is currently developing an updated Critiques of Libertarianism wiki ( ).

    Mike, it's an honor. First off, I was wondering how you got involved in this political debate. You're certainly one of the earlier Web critics of the libertarians, debating with them even back on Usenet. Was it folks on Usenet who first got you interested?
  • Glad to be here: it will be nice to have a different venue.

    Actually, my first experience with libertarianism was with the president of the fraternity I joined, in 1972. He was writing libertarian letters to the editor of SF magazines, where Heinlein and Anderson were publishing libertarian-oriented stories. He was a real evangelist, with the typical attitude that he knew the truth and if only the idiots could see it too! I told him he was a fool.

    In 1976, the PLATO system (an international network) had vigorous newsgroup-like forums, and I ran into some more. But mostly I spent my time arguing with the religious. That continued into the usenet era, on newsgroups. But I got bored, and had noticed that libertarian evangelists were injecting their arguments into every newsgroup I read. It was obnoxious and stupid, but they would not shut up and most people were unable to answer the libertarian propaganda any more than they could answer the religious propaganda. So after a while arguing with them, I decided to write the Non-Libertarian FAQ to answer the most pernicious propaganda. After that, when the web was invented, I created a web site to stash the FAQ and some other resources.
  • Wow, you really have been involved a long time!

    I'm glad you brought up religion because religion -- or perhaps more specifically, fundamentalism -- seems to be the paradigm I'm seeing the libertarians operate in. I have experience with that paradigm, since I myself used to be an Orthodox Jew, although like yourself I am now a skeptic. I must say, I agree that some of these libertarians are as evangelistic as the most diehard fundamentalists I've known. Fundamentalists don't always think every single conversation needs to be about their theology. Many have lost confidence in their ability to win the arguments and thus refuse to speak about theology with folks like us who are familiar with their thinking. But libertarians have a way of taking over conversations. Like other fundamentalists, they reference all of their literature, happily dismissing any criticism of their worldview as ignorance of the "true science", in this case the "economic science" of Austrians or the obvious (to them) dogma of the "non-aggression principle."

    We've long thought about and studied what attracts people to religion. What do you think attracts people to libertarianism?
  • Libertarians tell a rather juvenile story about the salvation of wealth versus the damnation of poverty. Salvation is to be achieved by righteous individual effort of the faithful, who are of course the superior intellects.

    That's the story of "Atlas Shrugged": it was aimed at 16 year olds. You, too, can be a hero of capitalism, creating your own commercial empire and bossing around minions. Look how your first jobs confirm your upward trajectory as a libertarian! Thank libertarianism for the freedom from your parents. But, oh no! Now you've stopped: it must be because government is keeping you down!

    So we have a bait-and-switch. Flatter the young by telling them they have superior intellect and will become wealthy. Then when that doesn't really pan out, switch to the story of good versus bad, how the bad government is keeping you from your manifest destiny as a capitalist.

    Once this Manichean worldview is established, libertarians will self-train in their own propaganda because they want to learn how to defeat the evil government.

    The whole thing is premised on the common immaturities of 16 year olds. Self-focus and disregard of others. Ignorance of cult recruitment technique. Resentment of parental controls over education, home and money. Ignorance of economics, history and philosophy. Why can't we have capitalist paradise now, I want to be rich now! Etc.

    So I don't view it as attraction, but rather as infection. There is some attraction of older businessmen who chafe at government-imposed restrictions. These types tend to take a "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven" attitude. They want to use libertarianism as a tool to oppose government.
  • Despite Rothbard's protestations,* libertarians often like to style themselves as Basically Anarchists. It's fun to declare oneself a radical after all, and what is more radical than anarchism? I've been wondering to myself why real anarchism with its critique of hierarchical capitalism hasn't taken off like libertarianism has. After all, as Bob Black has pointed out, "without even entering into the question of the world economy’s ultimate dictation within narrow limits of everybody’s productive activity, it’s apparent that the source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is not the state but rather the business that employs him."** I think your last comment provides some insight into the answer to my question: "Self-focus", as you put it, seems to be key here.

    Political scientist Corey Robin wrote an interesting essay recently arguing that libertarians share an elective affinity with Nietzsche*** and while I'd never thought about it before, it struck me while reading his essay that really Hayek's value-creating enterpeneur -- or the "honest businessman" the libertarians talk about with such longing gazes -- does sound a lot like the Nietzschean superman (Übermensch); people attracted to radical ideologies have long been attracted to that ideal of superiority. Anarchists, even individualist anarchists that libertarians wish to claim as their predecessors (e.g. Spooner), don't have this emphasis on the special people, the titans of industry.

    My own political views are pretty blandly liberal, but I don't have any delusions that everybody will think like me. However, this utopian faith in the people who shape the market seems extraordinarily problematic. Liberals and conservatives argue about the role of government and the market, but we don't pretend either is...well, magical. I can cite academic studies till kingdom come showing the market is not magical to these folks, but that doesn't seem to get me anywhere, since they'll just dig up something from the Austrian economists at Cato or George Mason. Like creationists, they have their own professors so they -- distrustful of the academy as they are -- ignore the mainstream. I don't know how to get through to the #liberty cult. Have you found any arguments to be more effective than others at penetrating their epistemologies?

  • The reason minarchist libertarianism has beaten out rightist anarchism is simple: a vast investment in propaganda over a period of at least 4 decades by the Koch brothers and others coordinated originally through the Mount Pelerin Society and later through the Kochtopus. We're talking hundreds of millions of dollars (if not a few billion) to create an enormous system of entrepreneurial advocacy groups. These train academics, judges, politicians, authors, students and other shock troops to spread, implement, and proclaim the ideology as widely as possible. Anarchists, even libertarian ones, have nothing comparable. I don't think it has to do with self-focus so much as one of the largest and longest public relations campaigns in history.

    I read the Corey Robin essay. I greatly admire him, but I couldn't really agree with it: too tenuous a connection. While it is true that there is some strong overlap between Randian and Nietschean supermen, a Nietschean superman would not need to justify his actions against his own non-coercion premise: he'd just go do it. Same results perhaps, just different amounts of hypocrisy. And the vast diversity of libertarianism makes any such comparison really difficult. Nietsche is much less variable in interpretation, as far as I know.

    I'd attribute the heroic businessman trope to the business sponsors of libertarianism. They're paying, so their people write them up as the heroes. It's not much different than it was in the era of the American robber barons.

    I don't think there is any magic argument that can pierce epistemologies any more than than there is one that can pierce religious beliefs. People adopt beliefs for stupid reasons, and then tend to defend their beliefs with as much sophistication as they can muster. For libertarians that usually means parroting Cato or Libertarian Party propaganda.

    Extremely few can actually be persuaded to question their own beliefs. In my experience over the past 20 years, only a few dozen people have told me that they have been convinced by me. What I think really happens is that people grow weary of defending their beliefs, and then become open to actually listening to opposing ideas. Which is why there are so many former libertarians out there who were not convinced by me but found their own ways out. All that energy defending the beliefs, and then they notice that they really haven't gotten anywhere personally despite the passionate belief in libertarianism. Finally, they may read something that doesn't agree with libertarianism and notice that it makes some sense, and the unravelling starts.

    My sites are not there to deprogram libertarians. That won't work, because ideologies teach their converts how to reject outside teachings. My sites are there to arm against libertarianism, so that libertarians can be made to look foolish to onlookers and potential recruits. And to assist opponents of libertarianism in fighting the endless stream of ideological nonsense.
  • Fascinating. I agree that the main point of these arguments should not be to deprogram, but to ensure naive onlookers are not roped in by faulty arguments.

    Usually, when it comes to disputes with people who are deeply ideological (e.g. people steeped in religious faith), I see hope in the skepticism movement. But I don't see much hope in the skepticism movement on this topic. Many atheists who seem otherwise skeptical are attracted to -- or as you put it earlier, infected by -- libertarianism. Michael Shermer has recently committed some heresies by endorsing gun control and the proposition that anthropological global warming is real**, but he is somebody who was naturally attracted to libertarian ideology and I recall that in "Why People Believe in Weird Things," he couldn't at the time bring himself to criticize anything about libertarian ideology, instead only attacking the personality cult around Ayn Rand and some of her personal character flaws. Penn Jillette, an otherwise skeptical figure, is probably one of the most famous libertarians. A skeptical blogger I otherwise like very much sought to make clear that he feels free to criticize anybody by listing political beliefs he thinks atheists are often wrong about, but when he did only criticized beliefs common on the left;** when I gently challenged him to discuss flawed libertarian ideas, he didn't accept. Often, even our fellow skeptics who aren't libertarians seem like they feel like they have to treat this ideology like its legitimate and don't give it the sort of skeptical inquiry we treat religion with. Your websites and Rationalwiki don't give libertarianism that deference, but why do you think otherwise seemingly bona fide skeptics seem to like it so much?

  • The following is just my opinion: I don't have any real sources to back it up.

    I'm a biologist by training, and so I view this as a matter of preadaptation.

    An atheist that has gone to the trouble of rejecting the dominant religion of his culture is already preadapted to reject other cultural norms, such as the progressive role of government.

    Entrepreneurs are pre-adapted to appreciate ideologies that praise entrepreneurs and their individual efforts.

    People like Penn Gillette and Michael Shermer fit both of those categories.

    Another preadaption is a vulnerability to seemingly logical argument. Magicians will often say that it is easiest to fool scientists and other logical thinkers. I think ideologues feel the same way. It takes a great deal of time and thinking to spot errors and fallacies in supposedly logical arguments, and for all that we attempt to make our own arguments logical it is a different and harder task to check them: so we normally just go along with the appearance of logic and hope we aren't being fooled. Less highly trained people develop suspicion of logic after having been painfully manipulated by it by their "betters".

    And once again, as Shermer himself has pointed out, once you come to believe in something for stupid reasons, you defend it with the cleverest reasons you can come up with.

    I think most other skeptics are loathe to criticize the ideas of libertarian skeptics because it will cause infighting among skeptics. Much as feminism is causing infighting right now in the atheist/skeptical community, much to the chagrin of Shermer, Dawkins, and others. My personal feeling is that it is a battle that ought to be fought, just as the feminist battle ought to be fought. If some big names are lost, so what: new names will become important.
  • I find that all very thought-provoking. I agree with you that these battles need to be fought. If we withhold our skepticism from certain topics, we're not really skeptics, are we? We're just another group refusing to question dogmas.

    Now, earlier I asked about why the skeptical movement isn't really confronting libertarianism. There's another movement which wasn't confronting the libertarians much, instead hoping to co-opt them, but now there is at least something of a push on their front: The conservative movement. While some people liked the government shutdown or say they don't have an opinion, it was generally unpopular. Republicans were blamed more than anybody else. When some libertarian-leaning folks talked about how going over the debt ceiling wouldn't be a big deal, I think mainstream conservatives' eyes popped out. At least some moderates, neocons, and paleocons have been speaking out against libertarian-leaners, Rand Paul, and the Tea Party, where a lot of libertarians have made nice little ideological nests for themselves. Peter King even called Rand Paul a RINO because he doesn't stand for traditional Republican values, and that term is one of the biggest insults you can throw at a fellow Republican. On your site, you note that "few conservatives seem to feel much need to bash libertarianism" but do you see any hope now that there will be more GOP criticisms of libertarians in areas where they deserve to be criticized?
  • I think right now the conservative Republicans are afraid to criticize or oppose the libertarian/Tea Party positions because they will be primaried. Any sign of opposition could trigger a flood of cash to back a Tea Party primary opponent. A lot of that cash traces back to Koch-affiliated organizations.

    I think the Koch strategy relies on finding the most bubble-headed but personable and physically attractive candidates and training them to spew the Koch propaganda. The fact that they have little brains helps keep them from having independent thoughts, and keeps them reliant on the supplier of talking points. By the standards of billionaires, it is very cheap to fund a candidate far beyond his opponent. The Kochs have been developing their line of propaganda for decades so that it is easily repeatable and transmissible by any candidate who can parrot.

    Conservatives have always opposed libertarians, but it is only with the recent successes with the Tea Party that they've recognized a substantial threat from libertarianism. Prior to that, it was only crazy old Ron Paul, easily dismissed. I think that what hurts conservatives the most in this competition is that their arguments and positions are no better than those of the Tea Partiers: they are all foolish. The whole movement has specialized in tribalism: having followers who follow because they are in the tribe, not because they believe or understand anything. Then, as long as you define an enemy, the arguments don't matter.
  • I guess conservatives are a whole discussion in and of themselves! I must say, in a way, there seems to me to be something circular about the conservative-libertarian relationship. If conservatives fail and become extremely unpopular, suddenly, all my dear movement conservative friends become "less conservative, more libertarian." And if we see libertarians fail, well, they'll switch back to being neocons; the trouble with libertarians, we'll be told, was that they were too weak on defense, their economic policy was too radical and not fiscally conservative enough, and they didn't uphold the traditional social values that make America the greatest country on Earth.

    Two of the reasons I think libertarian leanings are gaining strength in the conservative movement are actually good reasons for folks to be mad at the Republican Party. marriage equality and the Iraq War. As I mentioned earlier, in 2004 Bush used the marriage equality issue to beat Kerry, but in the past 4 or 5 years (and I'm not sure exactly how this happened), the polls indicate a sudden shift where Americans have become much more tolerant. Similarly, while the Right was strongly supportive of the Iraq War, that war specifically and more hawkish attitudes generally lost their initial popularity. With such shifting winds, conservative folks decided they were more libertarian, to the point that when Greenwald's articles on the NSA came out, suddenly folks who used to be "strong on national security" thought that The Security State Was the Biggest Threat to Our Civil Liberties.

    Now, on the marriage equality front, that has been a liberal civil rights battle where it seems that those of us on the left have won, and will rightly get most of the credit for progress, while allies who are not on the left will get the rest.

    But I want to ask you about war, the security state, drones, and the like. Folks often talk about how Obama has continued various policies of Bush on these fronts. Gary Johnson may not have managed to break 1% of the vote in the previous election, but he got support from various quarters, and I know some of that support -- as with some of the support for Ron Paul -- stemmed as a protest vote from some of our friends on the left who wanted to send a message to Obama about drones (even though Johnson said he wouldn't necessarily stop the droning*) and international policy. Libertarians often argue that the only way to kill overreach on America's part in the foreign arena is to shrink the government and some leftists, while not on the same page with them on that argument, are quite sympathetic to it. I suspect you think supporting libertarians is not a good way to go about protesting Obama's policies. What's your message to liberals and leftists who align with libertarians because they're tired of international interventions?

  • (If you want the short answer, scan down to my last paragraph.)

    One good thing about the end of the Iraq war and the battle for marriage equality is that while libertarians might claim they were always in favor of both, both are plainly the work of liberals and not libertarians. Libertarians are big on lip service, but very small when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is. Which is why the ACLU is a liberal organization, not libertarian.

    As for international interventions, I wish there was a simple ideological answer as to whether to intervene or not. But there isn't.

    In the US, we have solved the problem of self-governance through constitutionalism, republicanism, balance of powers, and multiple levels of governance. "Solved" really means found a local optimum: there might well be better solutions. What are we optimizing? Peace, order, individual happiness, middle class, capitalism, and a host of other things.

    But there are only the smallest beginnings of such self-governance on a world-wide scale. Much of that is due to the Pax Americana, especially the United Nations. Which is strongly opposed by libertarians because of their isolationist views. (http://libertariananswers.c...) This is actually one of the stupidest aspects of libertarian ideology: of all the institutions that make military interventions, the UN has the most restraints on direct use of force. Even better, the UN generates vast amounts of public information on the state of the world and its problems: you need real information to begin understanding problems. And best of all, the UN provides a large number of conventions that set normative standards for national and international behavior.

    So liberals can reject reflexive libertarian opposition to the UN. This doesn't mean UN resolutions are wiser than anybody else's opinion: it just means that the UN overall is a force for good self-governance on the world scale. There are no other credible options.

    I don't think liberals and leftists tend to oppose military interventions: I think they consider some of interventions to be good things and other interventions to be stupid and wasteful. And we do all grow tired of the stupid and wasteful ones.

    Imagine if instead of invading Afghanistan or Iraq we simply used a drone program, followed by support for insurgencies or governments opposed to our enemies. That would be MUCH less wasteful of lives and wealth on both sides. Both are military interventions, but why choose the expensive one? The big problem with the drone program is that it is secret and has insufficient oversight by the public.

    I would love to see some international conventions on tyrannical governments. How to measure the tyranny, and how to undo the tyranny. We were extraordinarily successful after WWII, so we know it can be done: the question is can it be done without a severe war? Well, we know that can be done too from our experiences in India and South Africa.

    So, to liberals and leftists, I'd sum it up as: forget libertarians and their simplistic ideology. Libertarians, while professing desire for liberty, only wish to provide it for themselves. Use your empathy to the oppressed, combined with "do unto others" reasoning. Then ask how the blood, sweat and tears costs could be minimized. Then ask if that minimum is more than you would want to pay up front. And then remember that the savings of peace afterwards can be vastly larger than the costs to unseat tyranny. Having Japan and Germany as rebuilt allies and trading partners has been an enormous economic boon combined with an enormous savings on not defending ourselves from them if we had let them be. Those profits and savings are far larger than what we spent on WWII. Isolationism overlooks enormous opportunity costs.
  • Mike, you really opened some cans of worms of there! Do libertarians put their money where their mouths are, are they isolationists who only want liberty for themselves, and does the Pax Americana, with an emphasis on the UN, hold hope for the future?

    Let's start with whether libertarians put their money where their mouths are, if they are ingenuous, on issues like gay marriage.

    On the one hand, there are some libertarians who have given to some causes. There was a popular rumor awhile back that the Koch Brothers gave $20 million to the ACLU, albeit when Reason Magazine tried to confirm this, they were to my knowledge unable to.* But certainly, there are some libertarians who have given to support causes such as the one we were discussing -- marriage equality -- though. And there are libertarian journalists like Andrew Kirell who put a hard spotlight on right-wing nutjobs attacking marriage equality with insane rhetoric.

    On the other hand, while organizations fighting for civil rights like the ACLU have sought to brand themselves as nonpartisan organizations fighting for the rights of all Americans, their goals have made them (as you said) essentially more liberal organizations and the effective support for these causes has always begun on the left. Nick Gillespie has popularized the number of anti-choice libertarians as being about 30%.*** And in my experience, the libertarians and libertarian-leaners spend a hell of a lot more time arguing with us on the left about economic issues than their friends on the right about social issues -- indeed, when the libertarians are arguing with conservatives, it's often because the former think the latter's market fundamentalism isn't pure enough -- but I freely admit my experience may not be representative.

    I'm extremely curious. Could you elaborate on your thoughts about libertarians and civil rights?

    **but not always. See e.g.
    ***See e.g.
  • Very simply, libertarians have no use for civil rights. They want their ideas of rights: rights first and foremost to own unlimited property totally free of interference from the state. Up to and including slavery, judging from p 331 <i>of Anarchy, State and Utopia</i>: "The comparable question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would." David Friedman, a radically different anarchist libertarian also condones some reasons for slavery. When you think about it, there's no reason a private defense agency wouldn't be willing to enforce enslavement of non-customers by its subscribers: there are always situations where slavery is quite profitable, which is why it persists in black markets today.

    We laugh at the old Henry Ford saying "You can have any colour as long as it's black." Libertarians actually feel that way about rights: you can have any rights you want as long as they are only unlimited property rights. That deserves a laugh too.

    Now, a few might tell you otherwise: the sad little circle of the "Bleeding Heart Libertarians" for example. They are attempting to face the principle that if you have more than one liberty, the liberties conflict. Even if you consider relatively simple liberties such as "freedom to swing a fist" and "freedom from having a nose broken": those conflict and we must somehow choose between them. Both involve control of a person's own body. In order to choose between them, you need some rule. Non-coercion does not do the job: libertarians still allow coercion; the policeman's fist can break your nose for an appropriate reason. Retaliatory coercion sounds OK, until you realize that opens an even bigger can of worms because now you have to judge when it is retaliation and how much retaliation is permissible. The sad thing about the BHL's is that libertarianism provides no way to decide those questions except ad-hoc attempts at philosophy.

    Why are they so limited? Ask them "What property rights are you willing to trade off for any other rights?" Usually they will deny any need for more than property rights or they will be stumped: it's not a question they know how to answer. Even Nozick's attempt at a minimal state ran afoul of this problem. If they have an answer, they will not agree on it, because their ideology gives no guidance there. J.S. Mill ran into this sort of problem too with his idea of non-interference, and eventually changed to be more socialist to resolve the problem.

    If you allow markets, the preferred libertarian method of deciding issues, to specify rights tradeoffs, you end up with plutocracy or feudalism. The rich dictate either because they own the property or because they own the force. In a capitalist society, your freedoms are over your property: more property means more freedom. You do not have freedom over anything that is not your property (unless it is a commons, and libertarians would privatize those.)

    How can one maintain a preference for libertarianism in the face of needs for tradeoffs, such as liberty versus stability or liberty versus equality? As you get to own more, you recognize the need for stability, and you would tend to become more conservative. As you meet more suffering people, you recognize the need for equality, and you tend to become more liberal. To me, if you budge from the freedom position to recognize both the other needs, you become progressive.

    The only good way to decide tradeoffs between liberty and other rights (and values) for everybody, such as order and equality, is to exclude markets and dictators from the tradeoffs and rely on democracy. Which is also why libertarianism tends to be antidemocratic. Thus no libertarian support for voting rights beyond "one dollar, one vote".

    Libertarians oppose civil liberties organizations such as the ACLU because the ACLU endorses government solutions. That or libertarians subvert civil liberties organizations, as the Koch brothers seem to have done.<sup>*</sup> Even worse (to libertarians), civil liberties organizations attempt to give women, poor and minorities access to the legal and legislative systems. This interferes with the mostly well-off, white, male, straight libertarian privilege to discriminate, subjugate, pollute and plunder.

    If I may quote my own FAQ's paraphrase of Anatole France: "How noble libertarianism, in its majestic equality, that both rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the privately owned streets (without paying), sleeping under the privately owned bridges (without paying), and coercing bread from its rightful owners!" That's the vision of civil rights equality for libertarians. If not worse.

    *"The Left's Big Sellout: How The ACLU and Human Rights Groups Quietly Exterminated Labor Rights" -
  • That France paraphrase is so perfect. It never ceases to boggle my mind that people either don't understand it or are so concerned with maintaining hierarchical power structures that they really don't care.

    I think these are the last two questions I have and then we can wrap up with a conclusion. Thank you so much for doing this with me, it has been quite enlightening to speak with you.

    1) You mentioned the current libertarian tendency to isolationism and how libertarians only want "liberty for themselves" , but they aren't always isolationists. Brink Lindsey wrote a piece in Reason encouraging us to go into Iraq. Would you say these non-isolationist libertarians are thinking out of self-interest as well or are they exceptions to the rule?

    2) The United Nations is not particularly popular in the United States, particularly in the Jewish circles I travel in. The first thing I ever learned about the UN was how unfair much of their treatment of Israel is. Some people see the UN as largely ineffective bureaucracy while others see it as an imperialist anti-democratic institution (because of the Security Counsel's overrule powers) in itself. What would you say to those skeptical of your argument for the positive role of the United Nations in the Pax Americana?
  • It's easy to say you want liberty for everybody, but endorse only the liberty important for you personally. The founders of the USA wanted liberty for "everybody": but these white males let others be the slave or the woman.

    I see many reasons why there may be some libertarians who are non-isolationist.

    (1) Libertarian ideology is a huge mix-and-match based on numerous authors with differing ideas: there is bound to be some significant variation. Objectivists are not as isolationist as most other libertarians.

    (2) Other interventionist ideologies are held simultaneously.

    (3) Reason, being part of the Kochtopus, may be willing to present interventionist policies that could financially benefit their multibillionaire patrons, who are big in oil. Iraq was always about the oil: rolling the dice to see who would own it afterwards and disrupting markets to inflate prices to benefit other producers. IMHO. The Kochs have gained big-time. For all the Kochs' organizations rant about the evils of government, the Kochs themselves have made a killing from US policy and programs.

    (4) As part of Public Relations strategy, it looks good for organizations like Reason to pretend to be open "contrarian" discussions of side topics. All discussion gives them opportunity to repeat their talking points incessantly, to maintain the drumbeat of propaganda.

    (5) Libertarians are human, too, and some of them may ignore the dictates of ideology and let sincere feelings leak out.

    Interestingly, a glance at The Encyclopedia Of Libertarianism and Boaz's book on libertarianism shows that they do not discuss isolationism. And the former discusses only a redefinition of intervention. In my experience, libertarians get very heated when you ask if the US should have intervened in WWII because either they cannot justify it with their ideology or because they look like idiots to say no.

    The first thing I want to say about the UN is that it is not ready to be a world government as it is. It is much too loosely structured to be effective, and would need much more in the way of checks and balances on its effectiveness.

    Personally, I see UN as interfering with the regional dominance of Israel. I view that as a good thing: religiously driven states need to be kept in check. Small wonder there's Jewish resentment.

    The UN performs MANY functions. The World Health Organization, for example, is one of the most important. The UN is a terrific platform for publicizing injustice and other problems. I don't view it as imperialist, even though the major imperialists have veto power. The UN cannot act against the imperialists, but it doesn't particularly aid them either: there are too many non-imperialist nations that could vote against that. Imperialist nations do their greatest international deeds with non-UN organizations, such as NATO, the World Bank and the IMF.

    UN unpopularity in the US mostly harkens back to conservative unilateralism, isolationism and fear of communism. Libertarians mostly oppose it simply because it threatens yet another level of government. Since they refuse to see government benefits, they see it as harmful.

    The UN is probably useful to the Pax Americana as a place to publicly proclaim the standards by which American actions are taken: however hypocritical those proclamations are. Public fora work better than just private communications: at least you know you aren't being lied to in particular and that others will be able to see the lies as well.
  • Mike, at the beginning of this conversation you noted that in the old newsgroups, "most people were unable to answer the libertarian propaganda any more than they could answer the religious propaganda." I hope that this conversation has introduced folks to an alternative point of view about libertarianism and folks will be inspired to look into the facts for themselves. I know I have found it enlightening. Thank you so much again for having this conversation with me.

    Mike's websites include his personal wiki ( ), his Critiques of Libertarianism website ( ), and his under-construction Critiques of Libertarianism wiki ( ).
  • It's been a pleasure to answer such interesting questions. My wiki is a good place for people who'd like more basic answers about libertarianism while bypassing the advocacy: those are right at the top. I have a blog where I post occasional ideas and progress in the wiki: you can get to it through the wiki. I'm going to advertise this right now in my blog so that both my readers can know about it. :-)
  • Interesting conversation. A number of premises you have bantered about libertarianism I think are inaccurate, but mostly your view seems to be informed as to what libertarians believe.

    I noted your commentary about teens being wooed by libertarianism, not older persons -- my own experience was the opposite, I was a rather strong lefty from 13 to about 20, and then I became libertarian around 22.

    I wish I could have been part of this conversation, because without an actual libertarian to moor both your perspectives you did go off on presumed tangents about libertarianism, but overall it was civil and enjoyable.

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