Why Talk about “Cartoon Libertarianism”?

Having well-informed, sophisticated views about complex issues is an achievement of a sort, and can be admirable. Managing to be rationally agnostic about complex issues is also an achievement, and is admirable. Forming cartoony opinions on complex matters is not admirable. As Edith Watson Schipper says, Reasons are the coin by which we pay for the beliefs we hold. People who strongly hold strong beliefs on bad reasons haven’t paid the bill.

In a previous post, I made the following remarks:

The most cartoony version of NAP implies that any risk I impose upon you without your consent is wrong and violates your rights…

…Rawls advocates the difference principle, which might in principle require redistribution. Many cartoon libertarians respond that this involves unjust aggression against innocent people and their property.

Why talk about cartoon libertarianism? As I see it, Matt’s posts about non-aggression and his posts in general at are a critique of cartoon libertarianism. Cartoon libertarianism is an unsophisticated, poorly thought out version of libertarianism. Cartoon libertarians have fallacious arguments, accept facile theories, and make question-begging or poor objections to others’ views, but they just don’t realize it. Matt wants to help cartoon libertarians grow up a bit.

Given what we know about political psychology, we should expect that most libertarians are cartoon libertarians. It would be surprising if that were not the case. Most people of most ideologies hold cartoony versions of that ideology. Maybe libertarians are a little better or worse than average, but it would be surprising if the majority of them were sophisticated. (I’d guess they’re a little bit more sophisticated than average Democrats or Republicans, but not more sophisticated on average than others who hold heterodox positions.)

By comparison, in a recent post, Bryan Caplan talks about there being a pyramid of sophistication when it comes to beliefs about macroeconomics.

Tier 1, the Base of the Pyramid (50%): Partisans who loudly support Status Quo Macro Policy (SQMP) as long as “their side” is in power, and angrily oppose SQMP when “their side” isn’t in power.  See all the Democrats who supported Clinton’s austerity, and all the Republicans who supported Bush II’s profligacy.

Tier 2 (30%): Ideologues who are sure that “active government policy” will work well/poorly, even though they can’t even explain “their side’s” arguments, much less the “other side’s” arguments. [How many libertarians are in this group?]

Tier 3 (10%): People who can parrot some basic textbook macroeconomics to support “their side,” but who can’t answer basic objections – or even accurately parrot the parts of the textbook that conflict with their views.  [How may libertarians are here?]

Tier 4 (7%): People who understand a few Undeniable Macroeconomic Truths.  For Keynesians, these include: “Nominal wages are sticky,” “A lot of unemployment is involuntary,” and “Aggregate Demand matters.”  For anti-Keynesians, these include: “The safety net discourages job search and sustains unrealistic worker expectations,” “99 weeks of unemployment insurance makes nominal wages stickier,” and “Regular government spending is wasteful, and stimulus spending is worse.”  [How many libertarians here?] […]

Tier 5, the Apex of the Pyramid (3%): People who freely acknowledge the whole list of Undeniable Macroeconomic Truths, while taking all Questionable Macroeconomic Exotica with a grain of salt.

My educated guess is that a roughly similar pyramid exists for sophistication about politics in general. Now, as I have argued at great length in the past, I don’t think there is anything particularly admirable or special about having political sophistication. Being sophisticated at politics is no more inherently admirable than being sophisticated at plumbing. I think it’s fine to be disengaged and unaware of politics.

However, having strongly held opinions without sophistication or strong evidence for those opinions is a big epistemic sin.

You might be a cartoon libertarian if:
1. You think the term “social justice” has no definite meaning in philosophy today. Perhaps the term was too loosely used in Hayek’s time. I’m not criticizing him. But the term has a real meaning now. The question is no longer whether the idea of social justice is coherent, but whether any such principles of social justice are true.
2. You think Ayn Rand’s critiques of Kant or Plato (or any philosopher, for that matter) are insightful. Rand attacks straw men.
3. You think “All taxation is theft” is a good premise to use in an argument with anyone from the Left. It isn’t. “All taxation is theft” is a conclusion, not a premise. It presupposes a theory of the legitimacy of property that the Left disputes. You need to debate them on this theory.
4. You think it would be wrong to trespass on someone else’s property to stop him from letting a baby starve in a picture window. If you’re drawn to this conclusion, you’ve been blinded by a theory of property rights.
5.  You believe that Keynes was a hardcore leftist jerk, but you A) haven’t read any actual Keynes (who wasn’t actually a hardcore leftist at all), and B) you can’t explain the Keynesian rationale for fiscal policy. I’ve met a large number of libertarians who think Keynes was Satan. Only a few of them, in conversation, have been able to give me a good account of why anyone would believe the other side.
6.  You think “The Seen and Unseen” or Economics in One Lesson present decisive objections to all government intervention. These are good arguments, but they are not decisive. Again, you need to understand the other side. The smart people on the other side understand the “seen and unseen” argument and think they have identified real grounds for intervention.
7.  You have spent the last 30 years saying rampant inflation is just around the corner and the time to buy gold is now.
8.  Reading this makes you angry.
9.  Reading this makes you angry.
10.  You dogmatically assert self-ownership and then dogmatically use this to refute arguments for the welfare state.
11.  You believe there are no involuntary positive duties to others.
12. If you think you can describe how actual economies work just by manipulating definitions. You think you can refute behavioral economists by saying, “Oh, that’s behavior, not human action.”
13. You think it is conceptually impossible for most left-wing economic ideas to be true, so no empirical work is needed to evaluate them.
14. Reading this post made you angry.
15. You can’t pass an ideological turing test.
6. You think you can prove people are self-owners by the fact that we take others to have the right to agree or disagree with us in argument.
17. You have spent the last 30 years predicting a massive economic collapse, bigger than the Great Depression, is just around the corner.

And so on.

UPDATE: Here’s a response from the Stationary Waves blog about my motives and character.

Here’s a video from Cato where I discuss cartoon vs. non-cartoon libertarianism:


An important question in response to my original piece: Why pick on people with an ideology similar to mine? Why not attack conservatives or the Left instead?

Some answers:

1. For the most part, only libertarians and classical liberals read this blog. Criticizing the left won’t do any good here–they won’t read it. When I want to talk to the Left, I write academic pieces.

2. If the Left does read this, it should surprise some of them to learn that people on the other side agree with them that many libertarians are cartoonish. They might say to themselves, “Hey, maybe libertarianism isn’t all silly. Maybe it deserves a second look.”

UPDATE 3: Notice how many commentators say things like, “So, if you’re a libertarian but don’t agree with Jason Brennan, you’re a cartoon libertarian?” Isn’t that kind of a cartoonish response? I certainly didn’t write anything that implies that.  Notice also that despite my frequent caveats that I don’t think having political sophistication is especially virtuous (I just think that having strongly held political beliefs without good reasons is epistemically vicious), people are still treating this as if I’m just trying to say how much more awesome I am than everyone else. Ugh.

  • Aeon Skoble

    Most of this is right, though not particularly applicable to _academic_ libertarians. However, I think you’re wrong on #1. What is this definition you refer to?

  • Chris

    Why single out libertarians in the general public for cartoonish beliefs? Don’t most non-academic liberals and conservatives have arguments that are just as facile and dismissive of the other side? Zaller’s Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion shows that most people simply take their cues from the talking head without regard for consistency. At least libertarians can spot someone violating the non aggression principle regardless of party.

    By calling them cartoonish you’re making it sound as if the side you are most sympathetic to is uniquely stupid, and putting them at a disadvantage. I don’t see too many academic liberals and socialists blogging about cartoon liberals among the general public and Democratic Party. No political party or movement could survive by insisting on the high standards of belief that you seem to be holding libertarians alone to.

    • Chris

      I should acknowledge – you do ascribe cartoonism to other ideologies. But since academic liberals don’t do this with their troops on the ground, they come off looking better.

      • They look worse to me.

        I’d rather have people disagree with me for good reasons than agree with me for bad reasons.

        • Aeon Skoble

          That’s a good attitude w.r.t. one’s colleagues in a philosophy dept. But when violence is at stake? Surely not: it would be much better if large percentages of the electorate were cartoony prononents of Rothbardian NAP – then we’d, you know, kill and incarcerate far fewer people. When it comes to eschewing violence, it’s better to have people agree for wrong reasons.

        • Sean II

          And there it is, the basic error of the Brennanite outlook captured in one very revealing line.

          If you cared first about human freedom and flourishing, you would put having the right answer ahead of having the right method or style.

          I’m pretty sure you do that in every other area of life. You would never say: “Better a mechanic who ruins my car for good reasons, than one who successfully repairs it for bad.” You would never say: “Better to hear a song I don’t like played with impeccable technique, than a song I love played with amateur panache.”

          You made the same error with respect to voting ethics. People who vote for madmen, murderers, and fools are wrong to do it. They are guilty of heaping misery on the world, and it doesn’t matter how many hours they studied to reach that conclusion. Indeed, perhaps the opposite should be true: the smarter someone is, and the longer he considers the issue, the less excusable it becomes for him to go out and vote for some statist creature.

          Of course you have it the other way around, and the way you reached that conclusion is by elevating the means of your profession above the end it was meant to serve.

          This is not as original as you think. Lots of people who dwell in a profession get the idea that it should be a goal unto itself, accountable to nothing and no one. They fetishize their own profession, including even its petty esoterica, its trends, fads, jargon, peeves, tropes, and inside jokes, and forget what it was all supposed to be about.

          Philosophy is the love of wisdom. It is not “the inward looking love of philosophy’s own style and technique”, because those are merely instrumental. When that style and technique ceases to produce actual wisdom, the right thing is to discard them. What you’ve done instead is to say “Better keep the style and lose the wisdom, than gain the wisdom without the style.”

          But if it’s cartoonish to think that philosophy exists for us, and not we for it…well, go ahead and color me in!

          • matt b

            You know you’ve made when an ite or an ian has been added to your name 🙂 Randian… Nozickian… Rothbardian… and now Brennanite. I think you missed the point of JB’s post though. He wasn’t saying “Uh these damn libertarians favor xyz and xyz is what everyone should favour but these damn libertarians favour xyz for the wrong reasons (self-ownership, Objectivist ethics, etc etc) and not the good social justicey reasons I favour.” No, what Brennan is saying that the concepts under criticism lead to bad ideas like thinking we have zero involuntary positive moral obligations or property rights are 100 percent absolute and therefore all taxation is theft. Now you can say he’s wrong to reject these ideas but that’s very different from saying, as you did, that he’s basically complaining that, sure people agree with him, but that they don’t “have the right method or style.”

          • Sean II

            No, he’s made it pretty clear, here and elsewhere, that he considers it praiseworthy to have good reasons for bad ideas. Hard to miss that in his work on voting.

            It’s a really strange theory when you try to apply it. Take Keynes, for example. Clever man, thoughtful, influential, even fascinating, etc. Okay, so definitely not a cartoon interventionist.

            Given the context in which Brennan mentions him above, we can assume he agrees. Perhaps Keynes is just the sort of person he has in mind when talking about how he “would rather have people disagree…for good reasons, than agree for bad ones”.

            A couple problems arise with this. First, if Keynes is wrong, then his “good reasons” aren’t really that good. They just seemed good because they fit into a certain form or style, and perhaps also because they attracted such a large following. But if Keynes really is wrong about some or most of what makes Keynes distinctive, then his “good reasons” are now best described as “understandable errors”, or maybe “mistakes from which to learn”. “Good reasons” no longer fits.

            So perhaps Brennan’s statement should instead be given as: “It’s better to hold onto understandable errors than inelegantly defended truths.”

            Hmmm. Put that way, it doesn’t sound all quippy and cool, it just sounds a bit foolish.

            And what if we’re not merely chatting it up, but deciding how to live? Perhaps a space wizard whisks us away and gives us a choice between two worlds. In that case, Misesland with its mostly good policies and sometimes bad reasons is clearly superior to Keynsia with its mostly bad policies and seemingly good reasons.

            I know it sounds bat-shit crazy, but I read somewhere that libertarians are actually supposed to care about that. Indeed, I seem to recall that the big smear against us used to be that we fetishized theory at the expense of flesh-and-blood. Wouldn’t it be a further step toward remoteness if we now fetishized the way theories are produced at the expense of the theories themsleves?

            Which brings me to my second point. Part of the problem with Keynes is that key pieces of Keynesianism never made sense even in theory. To take a very popular example, how could anyone familiar with the way democratic government works, imagine that state would obey both sides of the bargain: “run deficits in bad times, surpluses in good”?

            Since that doesn’t even make sense as an idea, what should we call it: a good reason or a bad reason?

            Bad reason seems to fit nicely. And now we must ask the ultimate question. What makes a Keynes bad reason (such as the uneconomic, romantic fantasy that elected officials would intentionally act against their interest by taking pain when it could be delayed) somehow less bad than a Mises bad reason (such as whatever, arguing that no preferences can exist except as found in action)?

            Both seem like pretty bad errors, so why does Brennan treat one differently than the other? Can’t be based on harm, because Keynes clearly does more of that than Mises. It really appears to come down to style and taste. Brennan just seems to prefer non-libertarian errors to libertarian errors, especially (one cannot help but suspect) when the former originates with celebrated academics and the latter with cantankerous outsiders.

            Hey, maybe he’s right after all. That seems like a really bad reason, and I want no part of it!

          • I think I answered this in my book on voting ethics.

            Suppose a doctor has overwhelming evidence that medicine A will cure you, but suppose this is one of those unfortunate times when the evidence indicates that A will cure you, but, alas, A hurts you. When the doctor prescribes you A, he doesn’t do anything morally blameworthy, though A is not the right medicine objectively.

            On the other hand, if a witchdoctor happens to give you the right medicine, he still violated a duty of care with respect to you. Or if a mother randomly flips a coin when deciding between giving her kid cyanide or milk, and gets milk, then she gave the kid the right thing, but she was still blameworthy for her decision-procedure.

          • Sean II

            Yes, I remember those analogies. Here are my reasons for rejecting them in the present case:

            1) The doctors of statism don’t have overwhelming evidence that their medicine works. They just have overwhelming consensus, which by the way, the witch doctor also enjoys.

            2) Even the hardest of the hard libertarians aren’t flipping a coin. They’re right about +95% of the time. Indeed, we have to construct some wild ass thought experiments just to find the other 5%. That doesn’t happen by accident.

            With both points we have the same problem: in one isolated case, a “good reason” can produce a bad result, but over time and over a wide spectrum of policy preferences, if “good reasons” continue to produce bad result then they’re not really good.

            Coming back to terms: A doctor who almost never cures anyone with medicine A – if he keeps prescribing it – no longer has overwhelming evidence, and is a witch doctor. A mother who serves milk almost always and poison almost never can’t – if the sample is not very small – really be flipping a coin.

          • Guest


          • is the above operationalizable? I don’t see how.

            From Roman Law we get the notion of culpa levis in concreto- has the person with care, Doctor, Mom or whatever, exercised as much caution and diligence in acting for the affected person as they would have done when acting for themselves? This begs the question- who is the person who has a legitimate claim to care? Not the Doctor, if I’m not really sick. The reason I claim to be Napoleon’s space monkey is because I’m trying to get out of doing the washing up so kindly stop with the depot injections already. Similarly, the Mom- clearly an extreme right-to-chooser intent on asserting her inalienable right to post natal abortion- who tosses a coin should be praised for sticking with her decision to gimme milk (what? I still live at home- that doesn’t make me a loser) even though the God of the coin toss clearly hasn’t kept up with her reading of Kristeva.

            To my mind the real problem with this post as well as the comments it has received has to do with its neglect of ontological dysphoria- i.e. a rejection of this Universe as unsuitable for the construction of a personal or inter-subjective Lebenswelt- as the motivator of ideology. Since ideologies- whether cartoonish versions of a Scientific Research Program or Ontologically dysphoric delusion systems- affect real world Economies and Polities, it is still possible to partially order them but this partial ordering must be blind to their ability to self-rationalize otherwise an element of impredicativity is introduced into them.
            In other words, this notion that every time we download a belief from the ether we gotta pay Apollo- or Apple or whoever- in the coin of reason is just silly. Worse than silly, the fact that all this so called ‘debt’ has been securitized and swopped back and forth by a Credentialist Academo-Bureaucratic Ponzi Schem, has left us with a huge over-hang of toxic Rights and Entitlements and Identity type Politicking which, I very much fear, will destroy Civilization as we know it- I refer of course to Starbucks.

          • daprovic

            Not if you voluntarily accepted the witchdoctor’s decision-procedure…

          • matt b

            Jason wrote a good response to this and I’m enjoying your follow up discussion. I would just say that, to me, what Jason seems to be saying is that he’d rather have, say, a Nicole Hassoun object to market economics for the good reason that it would lead to more poverty and less opportunity (that’s false in my view but if it were true it would be a good reason) then have some dumbass hick Ron Paul fan cheer for markets because he thinks they will lead to white dudes in charge, gays in the closet, and blacks in their “proper” place. That seems pretty reasonable. I mean I always feel closer in spirit to the Hassouns in the world with their objections grounded in humanism than the people who agree with me for backwards reasons.

          • Sean II

            Okay, Matt let’s engage in a bit of good reasoning and extend the logic of that position, to see if you still like it.

            Assume you have a kid and you’re facing two choices with respect to his education:

            1) A heavily credentialed public school teacher who spent years studying instructional design at the latest, most fashionable educator training program. The catch is that his “value added” rating are dreadful. Students coming out of his program are low-scoring compared to the national average, and stagnant compared to their own baseline.

            2) A former home-school mom with no credentials who went into business as a headmistress and, working with the local dropouts from 1)’s program, now sends 45% of her students to the Ivy League.

            So…you’re saying you’d take option 1), because hey, you just like the way he does things and that’s more important than the result? Is that right?

          • matt b

            First of all who the hell is drunk on down votes this weekend ha? Our friendly little corner has turned into a den of negativity. What I love about this site is that those almost never happen. Me thinks some trolls have wandered over to bug us. Now on to your interesting arguments. I think you’re absolutely right that it would be lunacy to pick option 1. But Sean I never said that, you know, “Oh if there was an election I’d vote for the well meaning, humane, and intelligent lefty over the dumbass hick who would institute good policies.” I mean at the end of the day results are paramount. But I have a lot more respect for people who disagree with me for good reasons than backwards bigots who agree with me for bad reasons and one would be engaging in some pretty impressive self-deception if they denied that backwards bigots are pretty well represented in our ranks.

          • shemsky

            Just a suggestion, Matt. If you look at who showed up over the weekend that hadn’t been here in a while then you’ll probably be able to figure out who the troll is. And if it’s who I think it is, then I have to say that I’m honored to be voted down by that person.

          • matt b

            Damn I feel super stupid because I’m sure this is supposed to be obvious but I really have no clue to who you refer to ha. But yeah compared to a lot of other sites, BHL is pretty decent. At HP, you honestly cannot say anything bad about Obama without being called racist.

          • shemsky

            I suppose it doesn’t really matter who it was. I could easily be wrong about who I think it was. But, I have to confess, after I saw all those down votes I made a few of my own, just in an attempt to “even things out”. I’m sure it only made things worse, and now I feel very foolish for having done so. Live and learn. I almost never vote anyone down, because I don’t see any point in doing so.

          • Sean II

            You can blame me and my rhetorical style for the down-vote spasm. I bring that out of people from time to time. Earlier this year, I pissed off some dude so much he “followed” me just to down-vote every comment I made within five minutes of its showing up. This went on for like three weeks.

            The current down-voter merely seems to have hit everything in my “recent 20” box, which isn’t nearly so bad.

          • matt b

            Haha wow. That’s awesome. Pissing off people with style is kind of your thing.

          • Sean II

            I should say one more thing. You talk frequently about these unsavory sub-types of libertarians, and you seem to think they are some big significant fraction of the movement.

            I’m curious to know where you get the impression. Starting with a baseline assumption that every group will contain some share of weirdos, what reason do you have to think that libertarians – or even just Ron Paul fans – have more than our fair share?

          • matt b

            I was going to comment on this in my last post and forgot so this is good. Okay so I don’t think libertarians necessarily have more than our fair share. I thought the term fair share was commie nonsense by the way 🙂 But among Paul fans in particular… yeah the crazy is pretty well represented. The number of 9/11 truthers, goldbugs, Christian extremists, Southern white nationalists, America is run by Israel people, and ultra-isolationists is very high. And in the movement more broadly you have the Lew “The problem with the fact that Rodney King got the shit beaten out of him was that it was filmed” Rockwell crowd with their wild claims about the Civil War (oops I’m sorry, I mean the war of northern aggression) and decidedly illiberal social views. And then there’s the Objectivists who, while down with the gays and secular, hold spectacularly mistaken views on ethics.

          • Sean II

            “The number of 9/11 truthers, goldbugs, Christian extremists, Southern white nationalists, America is run by Israel people, and ultra-isolationists is very high [among Paul fans].”

            Straight-up challenge: can you prove that, or at least provide some compelling evidence for it?

            A couple ground-rules for the challenge. 1) Take “gold bugs” off the list. There is nothing insane about thinking the world could operate on a currency standard it actually used for centuries. 2) Take “ultra-isolationists” off the list. Most libertarians favor a stay-home foreign policy, so the prefix “ultra” isn’t doing any real work here, except to mean “isolationists you don’t like”. 3) Define “christian extremist” before you start counting them, and remember the definition can’t be “any christian” or “any christian who admits it” or “any christian who resides in a southern state”, or “any christian who supports Ron Paul”. First, you need to show that they are extremists, and then that they’re Paul supporters. 4) Citations to other people with the same conclusory opinion are not evidence. 5) There is no RICO statute in politics, so simply being seen in the same hotel conference room with Newt Gingrich isn’t enough to sustain an indictment, and 6) I think you get the picture…be prepared to defend your methods.

            I’m totally serious about this. This is not a rhetorical question, nor is it a speech. I really want to see what you can come up with here. You make a lot of comments based on the idea of a substantial redneck menace in the libertarian movement, and I think it’s fair to ask what kind of evidence you have. In fact, I think you’ve overstated the case badly enough that it may be difficult to find evidence in proportion to your claims.

            No offense, Matt, but if you talked about any other group of people as blithely as you talk about these alleged evil redneck libertarians, you would be on here loudly denouncing yourself as a stereotyping, straw-man-flogging, simplification-peddling bigot.

            It’s time to put up or…politely refrain from continuing to use this particular foil.

          • matt b

            Ughhh I was writing somehow long and thoughtful in response and then the stupid autocomplete freezed the page. So really fast. If I said Obama supporters are a bunch of economic illiterates I don’t think you’d expect me to go on a search to prove it. So just to be clear that to a lot of people the claims I’m making here are just as obvious as the claim that Obama supporters are a bunch of economic illiterates in the eyes of libertarians. Okay so one by one but again quickly ha. So yeah I think that, as JB pointed out, people who ” have spent the last 30 years saying rampant inflation is just around the corner and the time to buy gold is now” are quacks. I also think libertarians dramatically overstate the problematic role the Fed though of course it cries out for reform. No I don’t agree. Most libertarians don’t think WW2 was an evil plot by Roosevelt, many Paul supporters do. I think G Johnson is much more representative of the libertarian mainstream on foreign policy than those folks. I would say the people in his district who want to ban all abortion and think gays are evil. Pretty extremist. Those people being the ones who ate up the “fags are fucking polluting our society” vision in his newsletters, which, of course, he never wrote or read. And then there’s Paul himself and his relationship with the John Birch Society and his wingnut new “think tank”.
            This gets at some of what I talk about. So it’s not exhaustive or proof positive but I think this stuff is all out there for anyone WILLING to look. I know it’s much more fun to pretend we don’t have many cranks in our movement unlike the donkeys and the elephants but we do.

          • Sean II


            This is exactly what I was afraid of, in terms of how you’ve formed your impressions. That piece you linked to from the Daily Beast was the sloppiest kind of journalistic horseshit, and you should be…not proud of yourself to cite it.

            I picked a point at random and decided to test the integrity of the article. About eight paragraphs in, it accuses someone named John Laughland of “never having met a Central European dictator he didn’t like”. As evidence of his perfidy, they included a link to some piece he wrote back in 2002 about Belarus and Alexander Lukashenko.

            Matt, seriously…click on that link and read that piece, and tell me if it even comes close to supporting the charges made in the Beast.

          • matt b


            Let’s just, for the sake of argument, say you are right about Laughland on that one point. What else in the piece do you take issue with? And a quick search on Wiki turns up this piece in The Guardian (which I know some libertarians refuse to read on principle but you’re not one of those people so I know you’ll at least consider it)on Laughland which is quite well documented and hardly speaks favourably of him.

          • Sean II

            The whole piece is crap, and I’m sorry but I’m not going to sit here and sift through all the reasons why it sucks. You linked the story, not me, so the task of subjecting it to proper scrutiny is all yours, and you are long overdue to perform that task yourself.

            I gave you one perfectly good example, chosen at random. The Daily Beast accuses some guy of defending Belarusian dictator Lukashenko out of pure mustachio-twirling malice, then you go read the article and it turns out to be some pretty standard right-wing complaints about Eurostatism and other forms of internationalist intervention. Nothing there even comes close to a defense of dictatorship.

            I’ll give you one more example, just for the sake of amity, using your own favorite bugaboo, Walter Block. The Beast describes him as someone who “thinks the wrong side won” the Civil War and who “blames most of America’s current problems on the monster Lincoln”.

            Misleading is far too weak a word to describe that. As always, let’s begin with the kernel of truth around which the bullshit is layered.

            Block and others of the LvMI gang believe that the threat of state secession was the only meaningful obstacle to the explosion of federal power. Being Austrians, they are not much impressed with constitutional guarantees, and they think Congress and the President can only be held in check if the several states have some right of exit. They think Lincoln removed that check and eliminated that right once and for all, and in that sense they name his Presidency as a key turning point on the road to statism in America.

            None of this amounts to a support for slavery, nor to a belief that Lincoln is the root of all evil. And yet that is clearly what the Beast is inviting its readers to think about Block.

            So there, I’ve given you two reasons, which is reason enough for you to go looking for more. At this point, you should really be asking yourself if the cartoonish thing in this conversation isn’t your own dismissive views about other libertarians.

            In that respect, you’d be a lot better off using Roderick Long as a role model than Jason Brennan.

          • matt b

            I’ll stick with Jason 🙂 No I mean I think there’s an argument to be made, and you made it with characteristic skill and insight, that Lincoln did do some problematic things. But Sean when you read Block and company you often do see the “Lincoln is our Stalin” and sympathy for the South and a failure to unequivocally condemn slavery. And that should be pointed out.

          • Sean II

            So, here’s what we have

            The LvMI guys are fanatics because they hold an absolutist version of the non-aggression principle.


            The LvMI guys are evil because they don’t unequivocally condemn slavery.

            Those things cannot both be true.

          • Damien S.

            Sure they can, if the guys are inconsistent.

          • Damien S.

            “in that sense they name his Presidency as a key turning point on the road to statism in America.”

            Talking about ‘the road to statism’ while ignoring the elephant of state-enforced slavery is, um, something.

            Which was more “statist”: the modern USA, or the Confederate States of America? Which is/was a bigger threat to freedom?

          • “The road to statism” implies a road that actually led to statism. Slavery was something that had existed in the past and was going out of existence, so although it was a massive violation of freedom, it wasn’t a turning point on the road to statism. Arguably, changes in the American political system under Lincoln were. For details, see Jeff Hummel’s book.

            Also, while slavery violates freedom, not all violations of freedom are statism–individuals can violate freedom too, and slavery has existed in societies with relatively weak states.

          • Damien S.

            “was going out of existence”

            Uh, only when strong states took steps to abolish it. South slavery was so healthy that after the Civil War, lots of blacks ended up in involuntary servitude again via conviction for vagrancy and such.

          • The British navy had closed down the slave trade quite a while earlier, England had abolished slavery in its colonies, slavery was becoming less an less common around the world. We can’t prove what would have happened in the South without the Civil War, but we do know what was happening elsewhere.

          • Damien S.

            Becoming less common as states moved to abolish it. It wasn’t just evaporating. And those states usually had rather different racial politics than the US, with a continuum of interbreeding rather than a constructed sharp divide between white and black.

          • Matt,

            I took a look at the Beast article, and Sean is basically correct. Here are two more examples:

            “Also on Paul’s board are prominent former government officials who claim that American Jews constitute a “fifth column” aimed at subverting American foreign policy in the interests of Israel. Michael Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence officer, has used this precise phrase,”

            You follow the link and find that the article, which criticizes U.S. supporters of Israel, not only does not attack “American Jews” as a category–the Beast’s wording implies that it is an attack on all American Jews–it singles out for special attention Protestant preachers who support Israel.

            “Its website, for instance, claims that the Baltic republic of Latvia was “incorporated” into the Soviet Union, not violently invaded by Stalin”

            You follow the link and discover that the article, which is about recent activities in Latvia seen as an attempt to oppress its Russian minority, describes the pre-WWII annexation of Latvia by the Soviet Union as “In 1939, Latvia was secretly put into the Soviet sphere of influence by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and the country became part of the USSR in 1940.” The term “reincorporated” describes what happened at the end of WWII, when the USSR retook the territory from the Germans. Presumably the Beast changed “reincorporated” to “incorporated” in order to pretend that the term was intended to whitewash the original annexation.

            I think this illustrates a problem with your discussion. Your picture of Ron Paul supporters, or libertarians more generally, isn’t based on first hand data, if only because there are too many of them, in too many different places and political/social groupings, for you to compile an accurate picture. The second-hand sources you base it on, judging by the one you yourself offered, are hostile and dishonest. So you don’t actually know how whether your picture of the distribution of views among Paul supporters is accurate or badly biased.

          • Damien S.

            “There is nothing insane about thinking the world could operate on a currency standard it actually used for centuries”

            Insane, maybe not. Inaccurate, yes, as it ignores (a) it was mostly a silver standard and (b) more importantly, lots of complexity of minting and semi-fiat value of coins and adulteration/re-valuation and problems keeping small change in circulation and more.

          • Sean II

            For purposes of my comment, it doesn’t really matter whether it was gold or silver, gold and silver, whatever.

            The point is that Matt used “goldbug” as a term of abuse, although it is perfectly reasonable to support commodity backed money.

          • Damien S.

            Perfectly reasonable even though almost no professional economists do so?

          • Speaking as a professional economist … .

            A money issued by a government and backed by a single commodity isn’t my preferred monetary system, but I don’t think it is clearly inferior to a fiat system. And I expect a fair number of other economists, although a minority, would agree.

          • Damien S.

            Also Rand Paul’s raving UN conspiracy nuttery:

            The same UN that his father asked to confiscate a domain name for him…

          • matt b


          • “And then there’s the Objectivists who, while down with the gays and secular, hold spectacularly mistaken views on ethics.”

            I don’t, as it happens, agree with Objectivist views of moral philosophy. But to describe their views on ethics as spectacularly mistaken, don’t you have to have views on ethics that you think you can demonstrate are true? Do you think you do?

            That assumes that “spectacularly mistaken” doesn’t just mean “disagrees with my views on the subject.”

          • matt b


            Objectivism, like other types of hard libertarianism, rejects social justice, takes property rights to be 100 percent absolute, says that all state provision of welfare is tyranny. I consider that to be spectacularly mistaken. I also think that Objectivism is far worse than most since many Objectivists have unkind things to say about even voluntary charity.

          • Objectivism takes many positions I disagree with and makes claims Objectivists cannot defend. But the fact that someone can’t defend a claim he makes doesn’t tell us that it is false.

            The obvious way to show that an ethical position is false is to show that some alternative inconsistent with it is true, although there might be other ways. Since I accept Hume’s is/ought claim, I don’t believe one can show that any ethical position is true, so I don’t see how one can know that the Objectivist position is false, let alone spectacularly false.

          • Damien S.

            “how could anyone familiar with the way democratic government works, imagine that the state would obey both sides of the bargain: “run deficits in bad times, surpluses in good”?”

            Because they pay attention to the way the world actually works, not some libertarian cartoon of it. Most of the New Deal spending ended — early, even, in 1937 — as did Obama’s stimulus. The USA’s debt/GDP ratio fell steeply until Ronald Reagan. Much of the Keynesian stabilizer these days is automatic — progressive tax rates plus entitlements to the unemployed automatically expand deficits in hard times and reduce them in good times. Chile and Sweden are trying out fiscal rules to further ensure budget balance over the business cycle.

          • Sean II

            Oh, and another thing:

            If you care to know how I like to see it done when the time comes for libertarians to take other libertarians to task, see: Roderick Long.

          • Politics is really hard. If I knew with a high degree of certainty that my view is correct, then I’d be happy to brainwash the unwashed masses into following my view blindly in order to achieve justice. But all of us should be rather self-skeptical, Burkean conservative, and pragmatic, because we’re all pretty stupid.

          • Sean II

            “Politics is really hard”

            No, not anymore, at least not in the broad strokes. In 2013, if you don’t have a strong preference in favor of voluntary cooperation and a strong suspicion of state power, then you simply haven’t been paying attention to the last 200 years of history or philosophy.

            I think this is one of the things you’re missing. A seemingly unsophisticated Tea Party hick who meets none of your standards for “good reasons” may indeed be working from a sort of crude empiricism. He may have compared North to South Korea from his days in the army, compared Starbucks to the local School Board, and watched The Wire on HBO, with some talk radio mixed in here and there to help him generalize and extrapolate.

            He’s not a philosopher, but neither is he flipping a coin, and if he’s right, it’s not at all correct to say that he is so merely by accident.

          • shemsky

            I’m pretty sure that I qualify as one of those unsophisticated hicks. But my philosophy is all based on the proposition that every individual is an end in themselves, and can’t rightfully be used as a means to someone else’s end. Which means that I have to reject the idea of anything that entails using any individual as a means to someone else’s end. And that’s why I reject the idea that we have any involuntary positive duties to other people. And I’m not about to let go of this idea to appease some arrogant jerk who would call me a cartoon libertarian.

          • Sean II

            “my philosophy is all based on the proposition that every individual is an end in themselves”

            So that’s a good example. Let’s assume I have two neighbors, Shemsky and Manny. Both of them believe exactly what you just said: that people are to be treated as ends in themselves, and never as mere means.

            There is only one difference. You believe this as a result of some fairly simple introspection, mostly based on how you yourself like to be treated. Manny believes it for some highly complicated reasons, which he finds it difficult to explain outside of lengthy texts, and which in any case can only be understood by a very small share of the world’s population.

            The question is: assuming I agree with the rule and prefer not to be treated as a mere means, do I have any reason to consider one of you a better neighbor than the other?

            Only if I believe that Manny’s more complicated reasons make his observance of the rule more reliable. But in fact I don’t have reason to believe that. You could hold on to your straightforward view just as well as he can to his more intricate one, and the only thing I care about is: are you both right?

          • shemsky

            Just for the record, Sean, my comment was meant to agree with you, not disagree with you in any way. I’m the one who voted you up.

          • Sean II

            Oh, I knew the one thing and guessed the other. I was just trying to really agree with your agreement.

          • matt b

            It’s more complicated than your post allows, Sean. First of all, your average Tea Partier does not have a “strong preference in favour of voluntary cooperation and a strong suspicion of state power” The evidence for this is overwhelming. From the Tea Parties enthusiasm for xenophobic rhetoric and restrictionism to its embrace of Gingrich and Santorum it shows no love for truly limited government and individual freedom. I also would point out that on social issues the left generally is suspicious of state power and, on economics, the reality (often ignored by libertarians) of corporate power offers some reason for their belief in state power as a counterbalancing force (in practice I’d say it typically works out badly given corporate capture). And from the interstate highway system to improvements in air quality, the state has played a positive role so it’s not like people on the left have no basis for thinking it can do good things.

          • Sean II

            I’m afraid that’s non-responsive, at least to the particular comment for which you wrote this particular response.

            The question at hand is: is “politics hard” in the broad strokes. Are there, for example, “good reasons” in 2013 to think that price controls will make a good more abundant?

            My position: that is no longer a hard question, and even unsophisticated people can provide an answer with reasonable confidence.

            Brennan’s position, as revealed a couple comments above:
            “We should all be self-skeptical, because we’re all pretty stupid.”

            Take my example, and tell me: in what sense is that a hard question?

          • matt b

            So I’m guessing you agree with me that you were wrong to describe the tea party as having a preference for “voluntary cooperation and strong suspicion of state power” since you didn’t contest my refutation:) Okay now moving on to where we seem to continue to disagree. No Sean I do not think that you need to be very bright at all to realize price controls are really bad economic policy. But again, and this type of argument is contained in your first example, the question isn’t “price controls or market competition” or “North Korea versus South Korea.” These are obvious questions. But there are some questions where, contrary to your assertions, you can be an intelligent person and question orthodox libertarian views. For example, is it really blindingly obvious that all would be swell for low skill workers if there was zero labor regulation whatsoever? Is it really blindingly obvious that no government involvement is infrastructure would lead to a better situation? Is it really blindingly obvious that a carbon tax is not a good idea? These are areas that are complex and too many libertarians, high on self-righteousness and low on information, act as if they are easy and only dumbass statists could possibly hold a different view.

          • “If you cared first about human freedom and flourishing, you would put having the right answer ahead of having the right method or style.”

            This would be true if your mechanic analogy actually fit the scenario being described here… But it doesn’t.

            Method & style are crucially important to increasing human freedom. It’s not at all enough to have “the right answer” – which is pretty nebulous in philosophy anyway – and far more important to be able to influence other human beings that your answer is right.

            This, frankly, is why libertarians tend to fail at this time and time again. We have little influence outside of people who are naturally inclined towards libertarian ideas – in my view – because most libertarians care more about “being right” than they do about even bothering to get to know what kinds of presentation and arguments are actually *effective* at getting liberals & conservatives (and the politically apathetic) to adopt more libertarian conclusions.

            When I go to a mechanic, what I care about is whether or not he can fix my car. I don’t actually care about the specifics of how that’s done all that much… With influencing people on political philosophy, what matters is that we talk to them in ways that they respond to – and to that end, method & style are key.

          • Sean II

            So, I’ve covered this in other comments, here and in many previous threads, but I never get tired of saying it:

            1) As a matter of history, the most successful libertarian persuaders have actually been tactless, charmless, off-putting provocateurs with no academic respectability. See: Rand, Rothbard, Ron Paul, and of late, the ever-creepy Stephan Molyneux.

            2) No one really knows what it takes to reach those we haven’t reached yet. Nothing seems to work very well, and it’s quite possible that nothing will work. Maybe 1% – 3% of the population is all we’re ever going to get.

            3) Of course conservatives and progressive are going to say stuff like: “Oh, I’d agree with you about the drug war, but hey, look over there! Get a load of what Rand says about women in the White House” (or, insert whatever anti-libertarian talking point is your favorite).

            But just because they say that, doesn’t mean it’s a true account of their motives. Indeed, it’s pretty typical for people who can’t answer an argument to conjure up bullshit red herrings as an excuse not to concede. That’s standard procedure for not losing a debate when you are in fact losing the debate.

            If we fall for that trick by engaging in a purge of whatever looks either red or herring-like within our own ranks, then we’re pretty much suckers. If the left and right actually hate us because we’re libertarians, it isn’t going to make any difference how smooth we are. Sooner or later they’re going to realize we actually want to cut the federal budget, and at that moment they’ll wake up and lock arms together to destroy us.

          • “With influencing people on political philosophy, what matters is that we talk to them in ways that they respond to – and to that end, method & style are key.”

            I’m not sure that gets you where you want to go. Consider how often the effective argument that people respond to is one that is wrong.

            The obvious example is foreign trade. The argument for protective tariffs is wrong and effective, because it requires serious thought to see why the theory of comparative advantage is right and the theory of absolute advantage is wrong.

            You can be committed to using true arguments. You can be committed to using effective arguments. But you cannot be entirely committed to both, because quite often the two are in conflict.


          • Sean II

            Very true. One of the things that’s hilarious to me about BHL style outreach is you see all this faith that the left can be reached with academic papers, symposia, colloquia, guest blogging, social justifying, etc.

            Then you look at the actual left and see how conducts its own outreach, and their strategy is rudely aggressive and openly hostile: “If you’re against us, you’re crazy, stupid, or evil… We’re doing this for the children, so fuck you and the scruples you rode in on… That’s racist!… Oh, so I guess you want the robber barons back… What are you, pro-rape?… Did a Koch brother pay you to say that?”

            The left may have good arguments, even true arguments, but what they use in political persuasion is…definitely not that.

          • Damien S.

            Unlike libertarians, who make friendly reasoned outreach attempts like calling leftists evil statists who hate liberty and don’t really care about the poor?

          • Sean II

            Hey, I didn’t say “evil”!

          • jdkolassa

            I agree with this, but only 90%. I still think we need to draw the line at people like Lew Rockwell, who use our vocabulary and claim to be in our “camp” but argue for dramatically different positions and are mostly racist, bigoted homophobes who want to reinstate the Confederacy.

            That sort of stuff just can’t be tolerated. There needs to be some movement policing. Just enough so that the truly crazy and abhorrent are out; everyone else is in.

          • Sean II

            But that’s just what I’m calling into dispute. I don’t doubt that Rockwell is a shady and unlikable character, but I do deny ALL of the following:

            1) That his positions are “dramatically different” from ours (Is he, for example, secretly in favor of the drug war? No. How many positions can you name and cite, where he dramatically departs from us? Abortion, and…what?)

            2) That racism is better defined by what a person says or writes, than by his actions or policy preferences.

            3) That a racist/homophobe once, is a racist/homophobe always*.

            4) That Rockwell or anyone else at LvMI wants to “restore the confederacy”, within the plain meaning of those words.

            4b) That it is impossible to talk about secession without being a supporter of slavery.

            * If anyone asked me about gay rights back in 1989, I would have snickered like an idiot and said something nasty. Does that make me a homophobe still today?

          • Ricky Moore

            The terms ‘human freedom’ and ‘flourishing’ are subjective wank. I’m interested in industrial capitalism and eugenics.

        • Tedd

          That’s going in my quote collection!

    • I suspect it’s because this is a blog for libertarians and Jason is a libertarian so it makes sense for him to single them out. He also said that rational agnosticism about complex issues is fine, which does not seem to be a very high standard.

      • Chris

        Right – but for libertarian blogs to do this when liberal blogs don’t is a sort of discrimination. It’s holding one political philosophy’s less educated adherents to a higher standard. How is this not disadvantaging a political ideology/movement? When liberals write blogs like this, I’d encourage Jason to go ahead. As it is now, other types of ideologues have to be the ones to criticize cartoon liberals. If libertarians have to criticize not only cartoon liberals and cartoon conservatives, but also cartoon libertarians, then libertarians will find ourselves out of time to fight more important battles.

        What political movement has ever gotten votes for a policy by championing rational agnosticism?

        • If you know the number of the central planner who can get liberal blogs to do that, get them to do so. Maybe Jason saw them having this same conversation about us and thought “ok I’ll do that.” I’m not sure how you imagine libertarians should spend their time, but it does not seem to be an undue burden to say that one should be a non-cartoony libertarian if you are the kind of libertarian who has the interest and time to read articles by Jason Brennan.

          • Chris

            “I’m not sure how you imagine libertarians should spend their time”

            Researching the causes of the onset and length of the Great Depression or the financial crisis? Researching whether the robber barons made people better or worse off? Researching to what extent sticky wages interfere with market clearing? Finding out whether liberty promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number? Putting forth one’s own vision of liberty without writing a blog knocking down more pedestrian forms of it?

            I don’t mean to sound ungrateful to Jason. I assign his book in class and I like his books on voting. But if the more numerous liberal thinkers only have to battle libertarians and the less numerous libertarian thinkers have to battle both liberals and their pedestrian followers, libertarians will lose the debate.

        • The Left reads my academic work but ignores my blog posts. Libertarians read my blog posts but often ignore my academic work.

          • Sean II

            The libertarians are making a shrewd bet that the best ideas from the academic work will find their way into the blog discussion, and perhaps acquire some seasoning and flavor along the way.

        • matt b

          I hear what you’re saying Chris but it sounds a little too similar to Dems and Repus who tell me “Yeah man you’re right but I won’t criticize my party on this issue since the other side won’t criticize their party on anything. I just think that avoiding hackery is a central intellectual obligation. It’s just good mental hygiene.

          • Chris

            Maybe that’s one reason why Dems and Repubs win?

          • matt b

            I think we can win if we educate people. To me, being a partisan asshole isin’t key to success. Dems got fucked during the 80s when no one was willing to tell the base they’d gone mad and same thing is occurring in the GOP right now as all candidates ay crazy things 75-90 percent of the country disagrees with to win with the nutters. Truth tellers save parties.

  • What’s arrogant about this?

    • Tom

      “14. Reading this post made you angry.” That seems rather uncharitable as one point. There are a number of reasons that reading a post like this might make one angry. Such as the divisive nature of it, intended to berate and ridicule rather than actually educate anyone (but that seems fairly well covered in the Stationary Waves response). However, with one line you’ve structured the post such that you can easily dismiss anyone critical by saying they are cartoonish. It’s not really a solid strategy for an actual debate on any particular point.

      • There’s a difference between getting angry and thinking I’ve made a mistake. If reading this makes your BP rise, you’re probably too emotionally invested and are thus probably ideological in a bad way. On the other hand, if you think I’ve made an intellectual mistake–e.g., because you have evidence that most libertarians are in fact highly sophisticated–you wouldn’t get mad. You’d just show me the evidence and I’d change my mind.

        • matt b

          I actually disagree with this Jason. When I’m told that libertarians hate the poor and vulnerable by liberals who vote for a guy who wages a drug and drone war on the poor and vulnerable I get mad. I mean I don’t go and scream at them but on the inside I’m like “Your ignorance is enraging.”

        • Tom

          My major criticism is with your rhetorical strategy, and you’ve just shown why the criticism exists. You have made a list of assertions (right or wrong) with little to no real explanatIons of why these beliefs or ideas are cartoonish. And now if I want to argue with them, I must start from the position of being a cartoon and prove I’m not, rather than you proving that I am. You’ve shifted the burden of proof by beginning with name calling rather than reasoned argument. Even if I were to accept all of your arguments, I think that a disingenuous tactic. Some of the positions you state are not well thought out. I grant that. Some are more nuanced than the statements you make. Some people get angry at Caplan’s article because they are dedicated scholars in the tradition and perhaps understand that Caplan (who I have the utmost respect for) starts from a different concept of radical uncertainty than Austrians which is how you get economic calculation to not be a big deal (and I shorthanded that as it too is more nuanced). But your blanket statement of “you got angry, therefore cartoon” leaves much to be desired. And passion (BP fluctuations) for truth in disciplines of philosophy, economics, politics, and history are what make a good scholar, even if you write dispassionately in your field. It doesn’t make you an ideologue as long as it’s the search for actual truth.

          • Passion for the question is great. Passion about an answer is highly corrupting in most cases. Most of us turn into cartoon ideologues once we emotionally invest in an answer. We start suffering from massive confirmation bias and intergroup bias.

        • jacksmind

          Such an important point. It is increasingly difficult to claim one is rational and objective the more emotional one gets. I admit, that I am certainly guilty of this.

  • Is there a point system for this test (a la cosmo magazine)?

    X < 5 – sit-com libertarian

    5 < X < 10 – puppet show libertarian

    10 < X < 14 – Nickelodeon libertarian

    14 < X – Saturday morning cartoon libertarian

  • Grant

    Someone isn’t ideologically turing-capable in Habermasian episemology/Hoppen ethics.

    Most of these points are well taken, though I take issue with a few of them, though I imagine most people would, and I imagine they’d take issue with different ones than me, which indicates it’s a pretty good list all around. Could have done without the name-calling.

  • shemsky

    Regarding #9: Great article. Thanks for pointing me to it, Jason.

  • matt b


    Would you consider Nozick to be a cartoon libertarian? I’m tempted to offer a kind of sorta, highly qualified “no” or a kind of sorta, highly qualified “yes”

    • No, because the common presentation of him that you get in Cohen’s or Nagel’s critique isn’t accurate.

  • Fallon

    Hahaha! There are only cartoon libertarians then. Except for you, Prof. Brennan. You are the one and only true libertarian. Maybe we can get the guy that made that lovely statue of Martin Luther King to do the honors?

    Ps. Caplan is great– but Walter Block pwns him– like he would you– on the problems of empiricism and positive economics.

    • Kevin Vallier

      Hahaha! #8.

      • Fallon

        Exactly the piece! Block and Caplan have an extended exchange on the matter.

      • Fallon

        And I will add– Brennan, Zwolinski and you even– avoid the Austrian angle quite consciously. Granted, economics is not your specialty. Yet one cannot advocate concrete systems without at least implying economic concerns. What is an intelligent (I did not say wise or all-knowing) layman like myself to discern from this? So far it’s been like reverse psychology.

        • I was an econ major as an undergrad and regularly read econ papers. I’ve been to various conferences on Austrian vs. mainstream econ.

          My view is that you never base an argument on extremely controversial premises when you can base in on less or uncontroversial premises. Certain Austrian ideas have been incorporate into mainstream econ. Others have been roundly rejected.

          • Fallon

            Here you are engaging in definitional manipulation, “extremely controversial premises”. How about making scientific judgments instead? Consensus is a bullying tactic. So called ‘incorporation’ of some elements into mainstream is also very problematic.

            Economics has a monkey on its back– this desire to make it work like physics or engineering, and to treat people like ants, so deterministically. When Mises formalized deducing propositions from the action axiom– he viewed himself as merely clarifying what has always been the general way of reasoning. I tend to think he was right.

            Economic propositions cannot be tested. Even when experience inspires the discovery of a proposition– it must be realized that e.g. the problems of minimum wage or the Ricardian Law of Association–were apriori all along. If one did not have the concept of minimum wage or the value of comparative advantage already– there would be no proper interpretation of social data. This is social science in the economic realm. Otherwise– an individual is merely observing movements of bodies in space-time….

            If you look at Prof. Caplan’s own lecture notes– he does not write “Hypothetically, minimum wage leads to unemployment.” He leaves out ‘hypothetically’. Maybe he intuitively understands that following the Hume-Popper angle in economics makes turtles all the way down.

          • Consensus isn’t a bullying tactic. It’s rational social epistemology. When smart reasonable epistemic peers disagree with me, that’s at least some evidence that I’m wrong. When smart reasonable people all agree that X, that’s evidence that X. Etc.

    • matt b

      Walter Block is a fanatic, he has said that if one should himself in the flagpole hypothetical he is morally obligated to let go. He has also said that if the Nazis could have persuaded the Jews they were a human cancer and therefore get them to voluntarily enter the gas chambers that he’d fine with that.

      • Fallon

        I am addressing the economics of Block. It’s a different kind of fanaticism. Er, Block is for voluntary slavery too. Not sure how to think critically about that. I have not paid much attention to moral foundations. Big part of why I read BHL. On the other hand, given your own “madman” opinions on foreign interventions and your one-sided misdirecting takes on Lew Rockwell– though I read earlier that you now think droning poor people is a bad idea– I take what you say not at face value. This is not to say that what you bring up is untrue— I recently posted on my FB page that Mises might have to be rescued from the LvMI. Mises would not have tolerated racialist nonsense. On the other other hand– if the Nobel Prize in Peace meant anything good— Lew Rockwell would have to be a top candidate… Oh the humanity.

        • matt b

          I’ve always opposed the drone war. I’m in favour of humanitarian intervention. Big difference. Nobel peace prize for peace eh… well if reflexive opposition to anything America does, sympathy for authoritarians, and flirtation with racists and anti-Semites is peace loving…

          • Fallon

            The Madison Avenue theory of war, ladies and gentlemen.

          • Fallon

            Ok, my nobel comment is hyperbole.

            Every time I revisit the racist thing– the more sickening crap I uncover. At what point does the “science” defense become akin to the scoundrel wrapped in a flag? On the other hand– does Wagner’s personality and character faults make Flight of the Valkyries antisemitic?

            If there are going to be scientific racists in the world– better that they be Austro-libertarians than statists, at any rate. There would be nothing worse than an MLK with Genghis tactics.

      • Guest

        Who’s Walter Block?

        • Fallon

          If Rothbard is Mr. Libertarian– Block is the self-described Jewish Mother of the Austro-Libertarian movement.

        • matt b

          Block is an anarcho capitalist who teaches at Loyola University. He’s a believer in the idea that property rights are absolute no matter what. Or to put it shorter: he’s kind of a quack who just happens to teach at a university.

          • oldoddjobs

            And you are an internet quack! And a big stinky head! blah blah blah

          • Thomas Edvalson

            “who just happens to teach at a university”

            Isn’t being a quack a prerequisite for teaching at a university these days?

        • Sean II

          The reason why Block’s name comes up in this context is that he likes to say provocative, sometimes tasteless shit (e.g., he’s fond of saying “slavery would have been just fine – you got your little cottage, you sing your songs – except the whole problem was you couldn’t leave”.)

          As you can imagine, this asks for and gets plenty of gasping and pearl-clutching, and it has caused my friend Matt B. to regrettably dismiss a whole category of people who mostly agree with him on every issue that counts.

          Let it be noted, using the above example, that Block is not actually saying anything wrong. The essence of slavery is its involuntary character, and so “the whole problem” really does come down to the fact that you can’t leave.

          That’s a representative sample of the Blockian schtick: saying mostly true and interesting things, wrapped up in tacky, discomfort-causing packages.

          • Damien S.

            Not just “you can’t leave”. Also the whipping and rape and being sold apart from one’s family.

          • Sean II

            Those are all problems leaving would solve. To defeat Block’s point, you’d have to find something bad about slavery that could not be avoided simply by getting up and walking away.

    • How does this follow from my post?

      Purely apriori economics is just definition-manipulation. To know whether an a priori model applies to the world, you need genuine empirical work.

      • Fallon

        Points taken. I actually think your post is sophisticated humor as well– and a great way to let us laugh at ourselves. I could be wrong but it would be unfortunate if people missed this point– if indeed that was part of your intention. Although I feel you having to point that out would diminish the effect, ha. It would break some major rule of humor.

        Yes, applying theory requires empirical work. This does not make theory derived from experience, er, which is the major bone of contention. Epic struggle, really.

  • Sean II

    I didn’t see this before, but it deserves special attention.:

    “2. If the Left does read this, it should surprise some of them to learn that people on the other side agree with them that many libertarians are cartoonish. They might say to themselves, “Hey, maybe libertarianism isn’t all silly. Maybe it deserves a second look.”

    The smaller problem is this assumes the Left’s hostility toward libertarians is not itself cartoonish. Clearly it is, almost all of the time. It’s not like the Lefties are out there, open to the idea of being “surprised”. They could come across the world’s most sophisticated libertarian and still see in him a crude fanatic (that is, if they bothered to notice at all). And even if they are impressed, it won’t have any lasting or general effect. They’ll just dismiss the anomaly of “this one good libertarian” in the same way Russian village bigots used to dismiss the anomaly of “this one good Jew”.

    I myself don’t think we should dirty our knees to earn that kind of compliment. And if the Left really does prefer libertarians who are ashamed of their fellow libertarians, that is hardly a reason to be so.

    The bigger problem is that this approach has a poor track record. The same debate happens in every minority movement: the “we’re here, we’re _____, get used to it” faction always quarrels with “tone it down, let’s show that we’re really just like them” faction. The latter approach is rarely successful, and never dramatically so.

    The gay movement got almost nowhere with the “tone-it-down” method, and conquered all with “get used to it”. You never hear a gay leader start out a speech by saying “First, I’d like to distance myself from those embarrassing flamboyant queens dancing on the truck over there, and then I’d like to stress my many points of agreement with Orin Hatch before inviting Anita Bryant to take part in a colloquium on sexual morality.”

    They don’t do that, because self-abasement inspires little confidence, and the betrayal of allies wins few friends.

    • matt b


      You’re not fair to the left. Lots of libertarians go in saying crazy things like “All social spending is slavery” and “Lincoln was our Stalin” and then go “Ohhh the left is sooo mean to me” when they rightly react in an annoyed way. I would also distinguish centrist liberal types from the left. For example, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a former editorial writer for the Washington Post and he told me that on most issues he agrees with Milton Friedman and the man is a registered Democrat.

    • Damien S.

      As Jason said, if you think “property is theft” is a convincing argument, you’re cartoonish. If you go on about how the Rothschilds are behind the banking crisis, as a young libertarian and Ron Paul fan I know did, you’re cartoonish. If you can’t accurately describe liberal or Keynesian ideas, you’re cartoonish.

      I’m not an “academic liberal” (who is?) but I’ve certainly said lots of liberals don’t have sophisticated reasons, and I suspect many couldn’t give the Econ 101 argument for why minimum wage should cause unemployment, let alone cite the studies that suggest Econ 101 is wrong in real world cases. I do know Krugman has explicitly refused to cater to his audience (or his own biases) and blame inequality for a slew of problems, when he doesn’t see the evidence to support that.

      • Sean II

        I don’t doubt you’ve followed Brennan’s logic correctly, but look where it leads. Most of humanity can’t “accurately describe Keynesian ideas”. Are they all cartoonish?

        You see what I’m saying? At some point the argument just boils down to “Hey there everyone who isn’t a full-time academic scribbler*, fuck you. You’re doing it wrong.”

        This reminds me of something, and it’s not a flattering analogy.

        I remember, back in the 70s and 80s, there used to be this whole subculture of stereo geeks. They spent all their free time and most of their disposable income on audio equipment. They read glossy little trade journals, used heavy jargon, made life miserable for anyone who got high with them, etc.

        Naturally, they just couldn’t imagine why anybody with working eardrums wouldn’t share, exactly, their enthusiasm, their level of esoteric knowledge, and their opinions. It made them physically to sick to see some girl enjoying music on a portable mono, without even the decency to feel ashamed of herself!

        This whole “cartoon libertarian” business seems to me about as cool as those guys did.

        * I used “academic scribbler” just for you, as evidence that I’m aware of a Keynesian idea.

        • I think the argument is not about people who can’t describe Keynesian ideas accurately but about people who can’t and talk as if they can. More generally, I think Jason is objecting not to ignorance, which all of us have lots of on one subject or another, but to strongly stated views on a subject that are mistaken, or at least that the person stating them cannot defend.

          As it happens, I think Jason is himself guilty of that in his point 1, as I’ve argued below. But I don’t think it is unreasonable to criticize people for claiming knowledge they don’t have.

          • Sean II

            “…I don’t think it is unreasonable to criticize people for claiming knowledge they don’t have.”

            Well of course not! But there are important questions of degree, when we go to apply that. Let me give a couple of cases:

            1) A guy teaches a cliche-filled course on Keynesian thought without knowing anything about Keynes.

            2) A blogger loudly and persistently attributes to Keynes a whole bunch of things he didn’t write or say.

            3) A man-on-the-street libertarian rails against “Keynesian magic”, by which he means the idea that a society can inflate its way to prosperity.

            So, all of these guys are ignorant of Keynes to some degree, all of them are wrong. The guy in 1) is guilty of flat-out professional misconduct. The guy in 2) is guilty of being a misleading blowhard.

            But the guy from 3) is just using “Keynesian” as a kind of shorthand, for a view which (although not correctly attributed to Keynes) actually does exist.

            This guy is not an intellectual historian, so the fact that he’s wrong about Keynes is ultimately incidental to his point. He’s merely trying to say “you can’t inflate your way to prosperity”, and he errs slightly by attributing that view to the wrong man.

            Seen in that light, is Mr. 3) really so bad?

            When my mother says “that Javier Bardem is really great in Magic City“, I politely remind her that the actor in that show is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who merely resembles Javier Bardem. She replies: “So who cares? It’s a good show, is what I’m saying.”

            I think she has a point, and if Mr. 3) were here, he’d probably present a smililar defense.

  • Scott G

    Jason Brennan: “You might be a cartoon libertarian if: 1. You think the term “social justice” has no definite meaning in philosophy today. Perhaps the term was too loosely used in Hayek’s time. I’m not criticizing him. But the term has a real meaning now. The question is no longer whether the idea of social justice is coherent, but whether any such principles of social justice are true.”

    Scott G: “What does social justice mean and why didn’t Hayek know the meaning?”

    Jason Brennan: “Social justice = the idea that coercive institutions can be legitimate (i.e., permissible) only if, under favorable circumstances, they can reasonably be expected to help ensure that most conscientious people will lead minimally decent lives.”

    Jason Brennan: “I think it’s plausible that when Hayek was writing academics weren’t using the term in a consistent way. Even now, I doubt it’s used consistently outside of philosophy.”

    Scott G: “Prof. Brennan, what are examples of legitimate non-government coercive institutions, if they exist or could exist?”

    Jason Brennan: “Private property is a coercive institution, even in anarcho-capitalism.
    That doesn’t mean it’s unjust. Sometimes coercion is just.”

    Scott G: “Prof. Brennan, would you recommend prominent libertarians such as David Friedman, Russ Roberts, Robert Higgs and Don Boudreuax to use the phrase social justice as a means of persuading people of the benefits of coercive institutions such as private property? Why do you think these libertarians don’t use the phrase social justice like this in their work?”

    • I posted one comment on social justice already, but having seen this I think another is due:

      “Jason Brennan: “Social justice = the idea that coercive institutions can
      be legitimate (i.e., permissible) only if, under favorable
      circumstances, they can reasonably be expected to help ensure that most conscientious people will lead minimally decent lives.””

      Assuming that is Jason’s definition, I point outthat it is inconsistent with the definition offered to me by Zwolinski and Tomasi in the Cato Unbound exchange, where they wrote:

      ” social justice is a moral standard by which the institutions of a
      society can be evaluated on the basis of how well they serve the
      interests of the poor and least advantaged.”

      If different members of the same faction within the same political movement, philosophers all, give inconsistent definitions of the term, I don’t think one of them has any basis to claim that “social justice” has a definite meaning in philosophy.

      And I don’t think even the definition attributed to Jason represents a definite meaning, since “minimally decent lives” doesn’t–it pretends to be a non-arbitrary binary classification for values of a continuous (and multi-dimensional) variable. I have some problems defining “coercive institutions” as well, but I have not seen Jason’s attempt to do so.

      • Scott tells me that the quote is from Jason’s Facebook page. Assuming that is true, my argument stands. Not only does “social justice” not have a definite meaning in philosophy, it doesn’t even have a definite meaning among BHL philosophers.

        And if I am correct in thinking I have seen the Z&T definition offered by Jason, it doesn’t even have a definite meaning for Jason.

  • I think I fit your point 1 and possibly 11. I am sure philosophers can offer verbal definitions of social justice. But I did my best to get Tomasi and Zwolinski to offer a coherent explanation of the idea that made sense in a recent Cato Unbound exchange, and I don’t think they succeeded. The closest they came was:

    “social justice is a moral standard by which the institutions of a
    society can be evaluated on the basis of how well they serve the
    interests of the poor and least advantaged.”

    I don’t know how many other philosophers would endorse that—I have heard other definitions proposed—but it struck me as no more coherent, and a poorer match to actual usage, than my usual definition, which is that social justice means ideas of justice that appeal to people on the left.

    The problem with point 11 is the ambiguity of “positive duties to others.” I think there are situations where one ought to do something for someone without having previously agreed to. But I am not sure that everything I ought to do is something I have a duty to do.

    Have you thought, by the way, about trying to make a similar list for cartoon bleeding heart libertarians?

    • Sean II

      Here’s a few items to start building the list for “You might be a cartoon BHLs if…:

      You ever looked at Charles Murray and thought: “It’s really a shame more libertarians don’t pay attention to the poor…like me!”

      You ever put down a book by Milton Friedman and thought: “Man, this guy just doesn’t get it!”

      You describe your associate professor’s salary as a “minimum basic income.”

      You ever stopped yourself from reaching for the big piece of chicken at a family dinner, because you just couldn’t be sure that action would redound to the benefit of the least well off.

      • matt b

        Even when I disagree with you I laugh. Thanks Sean. I can never get angry with you because I’m always laughing 🙂

      • You speak with great respect of Rawls but indignantly decline to defend his claim that a society should maximize the welfare of the least well off.

        When asked to define “social justice” you insist the idea is well defined and prove it by offering two or more inconsistent definitions.

        When asked in exactly what sense your philosophy implies a special concern for the poor, you change the subject.

        Your explanations of why the views of other libertarians are wrong are clearer, better written, more convincing and much shorter than your explanations of what you believe and why it is right.

        This is fun.

        • Sean II

          When you’re losing an argument on its merits, you insist that your position is really a superior form of outreach.

          When faced with the fact that you’ve converted almost no Rawlsians ever, you say it’s really not about outreach.

          You “can’t say” taxation is theft “without” “using” “‘scare quotes'”.

          Based on your reading habits, the advertising profiler on Google News assumes you want to sell gold.

          • I should have said that I think the last of those is the cleverest, but it’s not as immediately funny as some of the others. Also almost certainly not true.

          • Sean II

            I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes you can get to true by way of funny, sometimes funny by way of true, but often the best way to reach funny is by way of the untrue and unjust. Comedy is hard.

    • Sean II

      Here’s one more: You might be a cartoon BHLer if…

      You support redistribution…especially by taking good will away from fellow libertarians who deserve it, and granting it to left-statists who do not.

  • Ryan Long

    Prof. Brennan, first of all let me thank you for linking to my blog article, and let me also add that many of the suspicions I expressed there have been (thankfully) disproven by this article’s re-appearance with a fully functioning comments section.

    Second of all, I think you should strongly consider some of the objections other commenters have made. It is simply not productive to name-call people. If this post were “all in good fun” and you made several points about yourself while you were at it, then it would be great. But to harp on what you perceive to be a group of wrong-headed libertarians for being so wrong-headed is not at all productive.

    We shouldn’t shame each other for not being “the right kind” of libertarian. That kind of behavior is what has made me distance myself from libertarian discussion fora lately. The problem with libertarianism is that everyone seems to want their own, private version of it to prevail. This is exactly what Mises crticized about socialism! (I wrote an article about this a couple of years ago for the LvMIC.) Why are we libertarians always in-fighting?

    I enjoy reading BHL because I enjoy challenging my assumptions about the NAP, ethical foundations, the labor movement, and so on. Discussing theoretical points and challenging your priors is always an informative experience.

    But ridiculing anyone who doesn’t already share our logical foundations poisons the well. What incentive do I have to consider your arguments if you’re calling me names?

  • Wheylous

    “You believe there are no involuntary positive duties to others.” – I don’t see why this is cartoony (maybe besides children’s rights theory)

  • “You believe there are no involuntary positive duties to others.”

    Okay, Confucius.

  • Matt

    It’s funny because the Caplan piece and the Huemer piece listed above have never made me angry, they have only made me think. This post on the other hand, has done nothing but make me facepalm. cool story bro.

  • Brian Doherty

    A string of questions: Are you a “cartoon liberal” if you believe that NO taxation is theft? What is the rigorous principle that defends the proposition that the entire amount a given government chooses to tax is the ethically proper amount? What is the rigorous and non-cartoonish theory of property rights that says that the government has a property right over the entire amount it chooses to take via taxation? Why is the social justice principle you wrote on Facebook less cartoonish than NAP? Is “minimally decent life” so clear and uncontroversial that it proves one is doing good, rigorous philosophy by relying on it? If it is a legitimate attack on NAP to ask “what if cutting someone’s finger could save the universe,” is it a legitimate attack on that vision of social justice to ask “what if you could only guarantee a minimally decent life for all by torturing and murdering every 20th red-headed child born”?

    • Brian Doherty

      I think I realized the answer to my last question already, and it is “no” for reasons that should have been obvious to begin with. (You can’t say all are getting a minimally decent life if you have to torture or kill anyone.)

      However, I remain confused/suspicious of complicated reasoning to prove that some individual lacks a property right over something that then seems to think it is an easy and uncomplicated answer to assume that well then government has that property right, as if the state is some floor for rights that picks up everything that drops from any height above it.

    • oldoddjobs

      They won’t answer your questions because they’re too intoxicated by moral superiority.

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  • The comment thread having mostly died out, I’ve shifted the argument to my blog. All welcome, especially including Jason.

  • Murray

    If mass murder and systemic theft don’t “make you angry,” you don’t deserve our attention.

  • oldoddjobs

    Basically, if you don’t agree with Jason Brennan you are a cartoon libertarian. Ok, got it.

  • Intentionally insulting people is always the best way to start a meaningful converstation. I’m sure it’ll score a lot of points with your leftist friends with this.

  • David Friedman’s response to this was great, one of my favorite observations of his was this one:

    You might be a cartoon BHL if:

    “4. Your explanations of why the views of other libertarians are wrong are clearer, better written, more convincing and much shorter than your explanations of what you believe and why it is right.”

  • For a lengthy criticism of Brennan’s first point and a list of “you may be a cartoon Bleeding Heart Libertarian” criteria, see my recent post:

    • Sean II

      Hey, you used my snarkiest and most personal cheap shot contribution to the list. I thought my best was: “You might be a cartoon BHL if…when the merits of an argument turn against you, you insist your position is really a superior form of outreach.

      That happens a lot around here. Someone takes a swipe at a traditional libertarian position on social justice type grounds. Next someone like you or Skoble or Caplan pops up and answers the criticism. Before you know it, the first someone will be down in the comments saying things like “If we want to be taken seriously…” or “See, this is exactly what turns everybody against us…”, or “Maybe if we start saying X instead of Y, people will stop thinking we’re so damn mean…”, etc.

      So at first that’s irritating just because of the dodging, and the appeal to consequences. But it’s also irritating because it seems to grow from such an obvious sampling bias. Just how does one get the idea that outreach to the left wing is a promising path for libertarians? You don’t get that idea from spending time with trial lawyers, black urban-dwellers, union members, public sector workers, and single moms! Trust me.

      But you surely might get that idea from spending time with left-leaning students and professors. And from there it’s a short trip before you start thinking: “What’s holding libertarianism back = whatever these guys don’t like about libertarianism.”

  • “LIbertarians” were leftists in their origins. They were fervently anti-capitalists. Read Josiah Warrern, Benjamin Tucker, Nathaniel Greene, etc.

    I see a cartoon libertarian pretending to be something else…

    • Rich Grise

      No, you’ve got this exactly backwards. The Liberals used to believe in Liberty. They’ve been co-opted by the Socialists, so those of us who still believe in Liberty needed a new name, hence, Libertarian.

      And we’re not anti-capitalism, we’re anti-corporatism. Without capital, nothing really productive could get done. A hammer is capital. Lumber is capital. A factory is capital. The problem starts when government steps in and starts protecting the chosen few. The Free Market is inherently biased against Crony Capitalism, aka corporatism. Without government’s protection, competitors would eat their lunch.

  • Thomas Edvalson

    Can someone please explain how involuntary positive duties (#11) are consistent with liberty and libertarianism? Wouldn’t that legitimize the practice of taxation and other unilateral “social contracts” we’re subject to?

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  • Rich Grise

    “Maybe libertarians are a little better or worse than average, but it
    would be surprising if the majority of them were sophisticated. (I’d
    guess they’re a little bit more sophisticated than average Democrats or
    Republicans, but not more sophisticated on average than others who hold
    heterodox positions.)”

    My, my, Comrade Jason. Aren’t we just little mister superiority himself!

    I’m sorry, but every single one of your assertions is wrong. But of course, your faith in socialism trumps the observable facts.about its implementation, namely, that every single time in human history that it has been applied, it has destroyed the country that it was inflicted on. Examples abound, but your ideology blinds you to observable reality, which is that Liberty invariably leads to the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

    Every. Single. Time.

    Every time two free people engage in any transaction whatsoever, they are both better off after having done it, because otherwise, they simply wouldn’t have done the deal.

    Let me show you an example of how the Free Market creates wealth out of nothing more than human resourcefulness.

    Farmer Bob raises chickens.
    Farmer Bill grows vegetables.
    Farmer Joe grows potatoes.
    Farmer Jane grows herbs and spices.

    So, Bob trades Bill one chicken for one peck of veggie. Both are happy with the deal. Then Bob trades Joe another chicken for some potatoes, and both are happy with the deal.

    Bob: Chicken Jane Jane: seasoning

    These other transactions also take place:
    Bill:veg. Joe:potatoes
    Bill:Veg. Jane:seasoning
    Joe: Potatoes Jane: Seasoning

    Now, everybody’s got one chicken, some veggie, potatoes, and spices – with the application of a little sweat equity, Free People, spontaneously, have transformed livestock and plants into a feast!

    And everybody is better off!

    That, my friend, is the Happiness that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are there to protect our right to the pursuit of.

  • Rich Grise

    ““All taxation is theft” is a conclusion, not a premise. It presupposes a
    theory of the legitimacy of property that the Left disputes. You need
    to debate them on this theory.”

    If you and the fruits of your labor aren’t your own property, then exactly whose property are you?

  • Rich Grise

    “4. You think it would be wrong to trespass on someone else’s property to stop him from letting a baby starve in a picture window. If you’re drawn to this conclusion, you’ve been blinded by a theory of property rights.”

    Who told you what I think? It is NOT my responsibility to see to others’ well-being, even babies. Not legally, anyway. “Moral duties” are the purview of religion, not government. Legally, you can’t force him to feed the baby, period. (the operative word here being “force.”) However, if you want to trespass on his property to intervene for the kid, knock yourself out! I’m not going to stop you, because you have Liberty too. 🙂

    You see, Libertarians would put no hindrance against you physically walking up and taking matters into your own hands, like feeding the baby yourself. Stopping you from doing so would be the responsibility of the one your are moving against, and not of me or any government.

    The sword of Liberty swings both ways!

    And don’t forget, I mean individual Liberty, not some kind of groupthink thing.

  • skitten219

    I thought cartoon libertarians were people against cartoon cruelty .-.

  • “Cartoon Libertarian” Is a good meme. It’s descriptive, accurate and pejorative. I’ll use it. It will work.

    On the other hand, the reasons libertarianism fails to gain traction, other than a sentimental bias in favor of classical liberalism and the founding mythos, is because most of it’s cartoonish, and there is no rational or empirical alternative.

    My problem with BHL, is that all I see here are sets of sentimental arguments.

    They work if you agree with them. But they aren’t ‘true’ in the sense that they are persuasive. As such they are limited to ideological inspiration and activism rather than political change. Political theory can’t require moral agreement because moral agreement is demonstrably impossible (and undesirable) to achieve. It must provide institutional solutions to different moral biases. Usually through rewards.

    We have real problems. And sentimental arguments are a lousy substitute for solving hard problems.

    So for literary purposes I like the “cartoon libertarian” meme just as much as the “brutalist” meme. But the problem is much more simple: Rothbardianism, and Misesianism are nonsensical. And they are so for the reasons I’ve addressed pretty thoroughly at this point.

    Although those reasons are probably a bit harder to grasp than self aggrandizing, bias-confirming, cartoon philosophy.

  • Ricky Moore

    Social justice doesn’t mean anything. ‘Justice’ has maybe one or two coherent meanings, i.e. procedural and fiat. Social justice is literally nonsense.