Search the FAQ Archives

3 - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M
N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z - Internet FAQ Archives

A Non-Libertarian FAQ, Version 1.4

[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index | Sex offenders ]
Archive-name: libertarian/non-lib-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
                           A Non-Libertarian FAQ.

              Part of the "Critiques of Libertarianism" site.

                           Last updated 04/17/97.

                                Version 1.4

                       Copyright (c) 1997 Mike Huben.
This document may be freely distributed for non-commercial purposes if it is
        reproduced in its textual entirety, with this notice intact.

Please send comments to . I welcome suggestions for
redistribution, additions, enhancements, and corrections.


       1. The original intent of the founders has been perverted.
       2. The US Government ignores the plain meaning of the constitution.
       3. The Declaration Of Independence says...
       4. Libertarians are defenders of freedom and rights.
       5. Taxation is theft.
       6. If you don't pay your taxes, men with guns will show up at your
          house, initiate force and put you in jail.
       7. Social Contract? I never signed no steenking social contract.
       8. The social contract is like no other because it can be
          "unilaterally" modified.
       9. Other misc. claims denying the social contract.
      10. Why should I be coerced to leave if I don't like the social
      11. Do Cubans under Castro agree to their social contract?
      12. Isn't that "love it or leave it"?
      13. Why should we be coerced to accept the social contract? Why can't
          we be left alone?
      14. We can't emigrate because there is no libertarian nation.
      15. Extortion by the state is no different than extortion by the
      16. There's no such thing as rights to govern territory!
      17. Why should I be told what to do with my property? That infringes
          on my rights of ownership.
      18. Of course it's my property. I paid money and hold the deed.
      19. New limitations on use of property are a taking, and should be
      20. Think how much wealthier we'd be if we didn't pay taxes.
      21. We lived in a fairly libertarian society in the US 150 years ago.
      22. "Might Makes Right" is the principle behind statism.
      23. I want self-government, not other-government.
      24. Why shouldn't we adopt libertarian government now?
      25. There's a conspiracy to prevent a working libertarian experiment.
      26. An event is explained by the issue at hand.
      27. Haven't you read "Libertarianism in One Lesson"?
      28. Have you read "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority"?
      29. Libertarians oppose the initiation of force.
      30. Dred Scott and the Fugitive Slave Laws were examples of government
          enforcement of slavery.
      31. The World's Smallest Political Quiz. [Nolan Test]
      32. The Libertarian Party: America's third largest political party.
      33. You're a Statist!
      34. Why do you spend so much time trying to debunk?
        o Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850)
        o Lysander Spooner (1808-1887)
        o Thomas Jefferson
        o Alexander Fraser Tyler
        o Ayn Rand
        o Andre Marrou
        o James A. Donald
        o Unattributed


Many USENET readers encounter libertarianism for the first time on USENET.
Such unfamiliar claims might be quite difficult to judge if we haven't had
the time to think of reasons why the claims might be false. This FAQ is
intended to review a few common libertarian claims that seem wrong to
newcomers, and present some arguments in opposition that show their


The purpose of this FAQ is not to attack libertarianism, but some of the
more fallacious arguments within it. That done, libertarians can then
reformulate or reject these arguments. This is also needed to help people
place libertarianism and its arguments in context. It is very hard to find
any literature about libertarianism that was NOT written by its advocates.
This isolation from normal political discourse makes it difficult to
evaluate libertarian claims without much more research or analysis than most
of us have time for. Compare this to (for example) the extensive literature
of socialism and communism written by ideologues, scholars, pundits, etc. on
all sides. Libertarianism is scantily analyzed outside its own movement.
Let's fix that.

This particular FAQ is mostly a personal view of libertarianism. It is
impossible to have an objective view of something like libertarianism, and
it would be a mistake to presume this FAQ is. (Or that the FAQs written by
proponents are.) It is also impossible for this FAQ to represent all the
opposing positions to libertarianism, though I hope to see many future
contributions from others. One notable failing (common to many libertarians
as well) is that this FAQ is rather US-centric. All statements in this FAQ
can be argued further by both sides, and indeed most have in several answers
to this FAQ. However, feel free to save a copy of this FAQ and cite from it.
It may not be ultimate truth, but it can be a starting point for answers to

The editor and primary author, Mike Huben , has 20 years experience in
debate over electronic networks. Much of that has been with religious
believers and creationists, and this colors some of the arguments and
examples. No judgement or personal offense is intended, though there is a
substantial amount of ridicule of arguments (based in large part on my
belief that it is the most effective antidote to pompous argument.) I
welcome recommendations for alleviating offense while retaining the sense
and humor of the arguments.

This FAQ is an unfinished work. Vast sections have yet to be created: as in, we might expect perhaps 20 FAQs to eventually result. Only the
first major section (Evangelism) has been written and included here. This
FAQ is written in HTML, then converted to plain text for posting.


It's hard to clearly define libertarianism. "It's a desert topping!" "No,
it's a floor wax!" "Wait-- it's both!" It's a mixture of social philosophy,
economic philosophy, a political party, and more. It would be unjust for me
to try to characterize libertarianism too exactly: libertarians should be
allowed to represent their own positions. At least two FAQs have been
created by libertarians to introduce their positions. But the two major
flavors are anarcho-capitalists (who want to eliminate political
governments) and minarchists (who want to minimize government.) There are
many more subtle flavorings, such as Austrian and Chicago economic schools,
gold-bug, space cadets, Old-Right, paleo-libertarians, classical liberals,
hard money, the Libertarian Party, influences from Ayn Rand, and others. An
interesting survey is in chapter 36 of Marshall's "Demanding the Impossible:
A History of Anarchism", "The New Right and Anarcho-capitalism."

This diversity of libertarian viewpoints can make it quite difficult to have
a coherent discussion with them, because an argument that is valid for or
against one type of libertarianism may not apply to other types. This is a
cause of much argument in alt.politics.libertarian: non-libertarians may
feel that they have rebutted some libertarian point, but some other flavor
libertarian may feel that his "one true libertarianism" doesn't have that
flaw. These sorts of arguments can go on forever because both sides think
they are winning. Thus, if you want to try to reduce the crosstalk, you're
going to have to specify what flavor of libertarianism or which particular
point of libertarianism you are arguing against.

Libertarians are a small group whose beliefs are unknown to and not accepted
by the vast majority. They are utopian because there has never yet been a
libertarian society (though one or two have come close to some libertarian
ideas.) These two facts should not keep us from considering libertarian
ideas seriously, however they do caution us about accepting them for
practical purposes.


Many libertarian arguments are like fundamentalist arguments: they depend
upon restricting your attention to a very narrow field so that you will not
notice that they fail outside of that field. For example, fundamentalists
like to restrict the argument to the bible. Libertarians like to restrict
the argument to their notions of economics, justice, history, and rights and
their misrepresentations of government and contracts. Widen the scope, and
their questionable assumptions leap into view. Why should I accept that
"right" as a given? Is that a fact around the world, not just in the US? Are
there counter examples for that idea? Are libertarians serving their own
class interest only? Is that economic argument complete, or are there other
critical factors or strategies which have been omitted? When they make a
historical argument, can we find current real-world counterexamples? If we
adopt this libertarian policy, there will be benefits: but what will the
disadvantages be? Are libertarians reinventing what we already have, only
without safeguards?

There are some common counterarguments for which libertarians have excellent
rebuttals. Arguments that government is the best or only way to do something
may fail: there are many examples of many government functions being
performed privately. Some of them are quite surprising. Arguments based on
getting any services free from government will fail: all government services
cost money that comes from somewhere. Arguments that we have a free market
are patently untrue: there are many ways the market is modified.

There are a number of scientific, economic, political, and philosophical
concepts which you may need to understand to debate some particular point.
These include free market, public goods, externalities, tragedy of the
commons, prisoner's dilemma, adverse selection, market failure, mixed
economy, evolution, catastrophe theory, game theory, etc. Please feel free
to suggest other concepts for this list.

One way to bring about a large volume of argument is to cross-post to
another political group with opposing ideas, such as
alt.politics.radical-left. The results are quite amusing, though there is a
lot more heat than light. Let's not do this more often than is necessary to
keep us aware that libertarianism is not universally accepted.


Evangelists (those trying to persuade others to adopt their beliefs)
generally have extensively studied which arguments have the greatest effect
on the unprepared. Usually, these arguments are brief propositions that can
be memorized easily and regurgitated in large numbers. These arguments, by
the process of selection, tend not to have obvious refutations, and when
confronted by a refutation, the commonest tactic is to recite another
argument. This eliminates the need for actual understanding of the basis of
arguments, and greatly speeds the rate at which evangelists can be trained.

Without preparation, even blatantly fallacious arguments may disturb or
convince a targeted individual. Evangelists, who tend to be more interested
in effect than in accuracy, don't tend to point out that there are usually
lots of valid counterarguments available, sometimes known for millennia.

If the target is not the person spoken to (it may be a group of onlookers,
such as the lurkers in newsgroups or listeners on a radio show), we might
expect that the "discussion" will focus on making the person spoken to seem
wrong, ridiculous, uncomfortable, at a loss, etc.

Small wonder many people are not interested in entering "discussions" with
evangelists! They're likely to be out-prepared, swamped (or worse convinced)
by specious arguments, and possibly used as a cat's paw in the persuasion of

The arguments treated here are not strawman misrepresentations: they are all
evangelistic arguments that have actually been made by libertarians. Many of
them have been made frequently. Although they are often used
evangelistically, we can't presume that someone making them doesn't
understand their basis or cannot support their argument. And on the other
hand, often other libertarians cringe when they hear these.

Most of these questions are phrased as assertions: that is simply a less
clumsy shorthand for "How could I respond to a libertarian claiming X?",
where X is the assertion.

  1. The original intent of the founders has been perverted.

     The founders of the USA were a contentious lot, who hardly agreed on
     any one thing, let alone libertarian notions. It is well documented
     that the Constitution and Bill of Rights are compromises amongst them:
     few agreed wholeheartedly with any particular part. Thus, looking to
     the founders for "original intent" is silly: it will vary amongst them.
     Not to mention that "original intent" (or original understanding) is
     just as open to interpretation as the Constitution itself because while
     there is lots of explicit data, it is from many contradictory sources.
     For example, Judge Bork presents notably non-libertarian versions of
     original intent.

     I think the best way to interpret the constitution is the way the
     founders explicitly specified in the Constitution: look to the courts,
     especially the Supreme Court. The Constitution leaves the method of its
     interpretation by the court entirely to the court to decide. This begs
     the question of how to judge the interpretive philosophies of the
     possible justices, but libertarians seldom get that far.

     "The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of
     the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the
     judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain
     its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding
     from the legislative body." Federalist No. 78.

     There is no reason short of worship of the founders to presume that the
     Supreme Court is less capable than the founders. Indeed, many
     libertarians from outside the US find the authority of the founders
     unconvincing. One writes: "As a Canadian, I don't give a _damn_ what
     the `founders' intended. I hate it when a net.opponent trots out some
     bit of tired U.S. history as a most holy of holies, not to be

     Jefferson himself said this plainly: "Some men look at constitutions
     with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the
     Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the
     preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be
     beyond amendment... laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the
     progress of the human mind... as that becomes more developed, more
     enlightened, as new discoveries are made, institutions must advance
     also, to keep pace with the times.... We might as well require a man to
     wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to
     remain forever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

  2. The US Government ignores the plain meaning of the constitution.

     Often this is presented as "The US wouldn't be so bad if the government
     followed the Constitution."

     "Plain meaning" is a matter of opinion. A plain meaning one century can
     well be reversed in another, depending on popular usage, historical
     context, etc. Well intentioned people can disagree on "plain meaning"
     endlessly, as we see in any non-unanimous court decision. For practical
     purposes, the meaning MUST be decided one way or another.

     Libertarian claims of "plain meaning" are often clearly shaped by their
     beliefs. Where this occurs, it's pretty obvious that their claims to
     "plain meaning" are not "common sense".

  3. The Declaration Of Independence says...

     The Declaration Of Independence is a rhetorical document, without legal
     standing in the USA. That status was a deliberate decision of the
     founders, not an accident. If it is purported to reflect the intent of
     the founders, then we can only conclude that they changed their minds
     when writing the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution.

     Nor should it be mistaken for a philosophical treatise: that was not
     its purpose. If a libertarian would like to defend it as philosophy, he
     should rely on sound argument, not reverence for the founders.

  4. Libertarians are defenders of freedom and rights.

     Libertarians frequently try to present themselves as the group to join
     to defend your freedom and rights. Lots of other organizations (many of
     which you would not want to be associated with, such as Scientologists)
     also fight for freedom and rights. I prefer the ACLU. (Indeed, if you
     wish to act effectively, the ACLU is the way to go: they advertise that
     they take on 6,000 cases a year free of charge, and claim involvement
     in 80% of landmark Supreme Court cases since 1920.)

     It would be foolish to oppose libertarians on such a mom-and-apple-pie
     issue as freedom and rights: better to point out that there are
     EFFECTIVE alternatives with a historical track record, something
     libertarianism lacks.

     Nor might we need or want to accept the versions of "freedom" and
     "rights" that libertarians propose. To paraphrase Anatole France: "How
     noble libertarianism, in its majestic equality, that both rich and poor
     are equally prohibited from peeing in the privately owned streets
     (without paying), sleeping under the privately owned bridges (without
     paying), and coercing bread from its rightful owners!"

  5. Taxation is theft.

     Two simple rebuttals to this take widely different approaches.

     The first is that property is theft. The notion behind property is that
     A declares something to be property, and threatens anybody who still
     wants to use it. Where does A get the right to forcibly stop others
     from using it? Arguments about "mixing of labor" with the resource as a
     basis for ownership boil down to "first-come-first-served". This
     criticism is even accepted by some libertarians, and is favorably
     viewed by David Friedman. This justifies property taxes or extraction
     taxes on land or extractable resources if you presume that the
     government is a holder in trust for natural resources. (However, most
     people who question the creation of property would agree that after the
     creation of property, a person is entitled to his earnings. Thus the
     second argument)

     The second is that taxation is part of a social contract. Essentially,
     tax is payment in exchange for services from government. This kind of
     argument is suitable for defending almost any tax as part of a
     contract. Many libertarians accept social contract (for example,
     essentially all minarchists must to insist on a monopoly of
     government.) Of course they differ as to what should be IN the

  6. If you don't pay your taxes, men with guns will show up at your house,
     initiate force and put you in jail.

     This is not initiation of force. It is enforcement of contract, in this
     case an explicit social contract. Many libertarians make a big deal of
     "men with guns" enforcing laws, yet try to overlook the fact that "men
     with guns" are the basis of enforcement of any complete social system.
     Even if libertarians reduced all law to "don't commit fraud or initiate
     force", they would still enforce with guns.

  7. Social Contract? I never signed no steenking social contract.

     That argument and some of the following libertarian arguments are
     commonly quoted from Lysander Spooner.

     The constitution and the laws are our written contracts with the

     There are several explicit means by which people make the social
     contract with government. The commonest is when your parents choose
     your residency and/or citizenship after your birth. In that case, your
     parents or guardians are contracting for you, exercising their power of
     custody. No further explicit action is required on your part to
     continue the agreement, and you may end it at any time by departing and
     renouncing your citizenship.

     Immigrants, residents, and visitors contract through the oath of
     citizenship (swearing to uphold the laws and constitution), residency
     permits, and visas. Citizens reaffirm it in whole or part when they
     take political office, join the armed forces, etc. This contract has a
     fairly common form: once entered into, it is implicitly continued until
     explicitly revoked. Many other contracts have this form: some leases,
     most utility services (such as phone and electricity), etc.

     Some libertarians make a big deal about needing to actually sign a
     contract. Take them to a restaurant and see if they think it ethical to
     walk out without paying because they didn't sign anything. Even if it
     is a restaurant with a minimum charge and they haven't ordered
     anything. The restaurant gets to set the price and the method of
     contract so that even your presence creates a debt. What is a
     libertarian going to do about that? Create a regulation?

  8. The social contract is like no other because it can be "unilaterally"

     Not true. Consider the purchase of a condominium. You have a contract
     with the condominium association, agreeing to pay the fees they levy
     for the services they provide and obey the rules that they create. You
     have an equal vote with the other residents on the budget and the
     rules. If you don't like the budget or rules that are enacted, you can
     vote with your feet or persuade everyone to change them.

     There are numerous other common sorts of contracts that allow changes
     by one or both sides without negotiation. Gas, electric, oil, water,
     phone, and other utility services normally have contracts where at most
     they need to notify you in advance when they change their rates.
     Insurance companies raise their rates, and your only input is either
     pay the new rates or "vote with your feet". (The exception is when
     rates are supervised by government regulatory agencies.)

  9. Other misc. claims denying the social contract.

     One commonly cited Spooner argument is that the social contract is like
     no other, and thus not a contract. That's a nonsequitur. A unique
     feature or combination of features doesn't disqualify something from
     being a contract.

     Some complain that the social contract is fundamentally unjust because
     it doesn't treat people equally, that people are taxed unequally or
     receive services unequally. So? Like insurance, rates can vary from
     individual to individual, and services received may be more or less
     than premiums paid.

     Some complain "Any contract where the enforcing agency is one of the
     contractors is hardly fair." But the U.S. Constitution is a contract
     between SEVERAL parties: the three branches of the government, the
     states, and citizens. It's a multilateral contract where every party is
     subject to enforcement by one or more of the other parties, and every
     party is involved in enforcement for at least one other. This pattern
     of checks and balances was specifically designed to deal with precisely
     this fairness issue.

 10. Why should I be coerced to leave if I don't like the social contract?

     Why leave an apartment if you change your mind about the lease? You do
     not own the apartment, just as you do not own the nation. At most, you
     may own some property within the apartment, just as you may own some
     property within the nation.

 11. Do Cubans under Castro agree to their social contract?

     If you define contracts as voluntary, then you probably wouldn't say
     the Cuban government operates by social contract, since most people who
     wanted to emmigrate have not been permitted to.

     Most libertarians have a peculiar definition of voluntary: contractual
     agreement makes all requirements of the contract "voluntary", no matter
     how unexpected they are, no matter how long the contract lasts for, no
     matter if the contractee changes his mind. However, they're seldom
     willing to view our social contract in that manner.

     Our social contract in the USA is one of the nice, voluntary contracts
     that libertarians should like. Even better, because you can terminate
     it by leaving at any time. There is no US government obstacle to
     emmigration from the US.

 12. Isn't that "love it or leave it"?

     Nope. This is a distinction that seems too subtle for a lot of
     libertarians: the difference between having a choice and having to

     For example, let's say you live in a condominium, and are very fond of
     it. As long as you can move out, you have a choice. No matter how
     firmly you intend to stay. No matter how much you prefer your current
     condo. No matter how good or bad your current condo is for you, you
     still have a choice.

     This is analogous to living in a nation. You choose which one to live
     in, and you can change. You may not be able to improve some things
     about it all by yourself, because it is not entirely yours.

     You have at least 4 choices. 1) Tolerate the social contract, and
     perhaps try to amend it. 2) Leave it by emigrating. 3) Violate it. 4)

 13. Why should we be coerced to accept the social contract? Why can't we be
     left alone?

     You are not coerced to accept US government services any more than you
     are coerced to rent or purchase a place to live. If pretty much all
     territory is owned by governments, and pretty much all houses and
     apartments are owned, well, did you want them to grow on trees? There
     ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

 14. We can't emigrate because there is no libertarian nation.

     Yes you can emmigrate, just as you could buy a different car even
     though your favorite company doesn't produce cars which let you travel
     at the speed of sound and get 2000 mpg. Even if nobody produces EXACTLY
     what you want, you can choose any car the market produces or you create

     There are roughly 200 nations to which you could emmigrate. They are
     the product of an anarcho-capitalist free market: there is no
     over-government dictating to those sovereign nations. Indeed, the only
     difference between the anarchy of nations and libertopia is that
     anarcho-capitalists are wishing for a smaller granularity. These
     nations have found that it is most cost-efficient to defend themselves

     If any other market provided 200 choices, libertarians would declare
     that the sacred workings of the market blessed whatever choices were
     offered. The point is that choices do exist: it's up to libertarians to
     show that there is something wrong with the market of nations in a way
     they would accept being applied to markets within nations.

     Libertaria is a combination of values that just doesn't exist: the
     government equivalent of a really posh residence for very little money.
     You can find nations which have much lower taxes, etc.: just don't
     expect them to be first class.

     And the reason these combinations don't exist is probably simple: the
     free market of government services essentially guarantees that there is
     no such thing as the free lunch libertarians want. It's not
 15. Extortion by the state is no different than extortion by the Mafia.

     This is a prize piece of libertarian rhetoric, because it slides in the
     accusation that taxation is extortion. This analogy initially seems
     strong, because both are territorial. However, libertarians consider
     contractual rental of land by owners (which is also fundamentally
     territorial) ethical, and consider coercion of squatters by those
     owners ethical. The key difference is who owns what. The Mafia doesn't
     own anything to contract about. The landowner owns the land (in a
     limited sense.) And the US government owns rights to govern its
     territory. (These rights are a form of property, much as mineral rights
     are a form of property. Let's not confuse them with rights of
     individuals.) Thus, the social contract can be required by the
     territorial property holder: the USA.

 16. There's no such thing as rights to govern territory!

     You'd have to ignore an awful lot of history to claim this sort of
     PROPERTY didn't exist. The US government can demonstrate ownership of
     such rights through treaty, purchase, bequeathment by the original
     colonies and some other states, and conquest. The EXACT same sources as
     all other forms of land ownership in the US. Also note that governance
     rights are merely a subset of the rights that anarcho-libertarians
     would want landowners to have. For example, insistence on contractual
     obedience to regulations and acceptance of punishment for violations.

 17. Why should I be told what to do with my property? That infringes on my
     rights of ownership.

     This question comes up rather often, since absolute ownership of
     property is fundamental to most flavors of libertarianism. Such
     propertarianism fuels daydreams of being able to force the rest of the
     world to swirl around the immovable rock of your property. For example,
     there were trespass lawsuits filed against airlines for flying over

     A good answer is: what makes you so sure it is yours?

 18. Of course it's my property. I paid money and hold the deed.

     What do you hold the deed to? Property as recognized by a government.
     As such, you can address infringement of your rights through the legal
     system. However your property as recognized by the legal system is

     This isn't too surprising, since limitations created by private
     transactions are also common. For example, property is often sold
     without water rights or timber rights. Property is commonly sold with
     easements: for example a neighbor may have the right to cross to reach
     the road. And property may be sold with limitations to its usage: for
     example, the Adirondack State Park was bequeathed to the people of New
     York State with the stipulation that it remain forever wild.

     Most government limitations on property are analogous, and you bought
     property that was already under those limitations. Just as it would be
     wrong to deny the validity of an easement sold by the previous owner,
     it is wrong to deny the validity of the current system of limited
     ownership of property. For example, a clear statement of such an
     "easement" is in the Fourth Amendment, which essentially says that the
     government can enter your property with a valid search warrant and not
     be trespassing.

     There are many existing limitations such as government rights to tax
     and to zone property, limitations to ownership of navigable waters, how
     far property extends to the water, etc. And sometimes new limitations
     are specified, such as non-ownership of airspace above property.

 19. New limitations on use of property are a taking, and should be

     Some new limitations can be viewed as merely making specific that what
     was claimed was never really owned. For example, where was ownership of
     airspace above property ever explicitly granted in our system of
     property? Where were polluters ever explicitly granted the right to
     dump wastes into air or water that they do not have a title to?

     Other limitations (such as rezoning to eliminate undesirable business
     or protecting wetlands from development) might be viewed as control of
     negative externalities. Most libertarians would recognize the right of
     a mall owner to write his leases so that he could terminate them if the
     renters cause externalities: why shouldn't communities have this right
     to self-governance as well?

 20. Think how much wealthier we'd be if we didn't pay taxes.

     This is a classic example of libertarians not looking at the complete
     equation for at least two reasons. (1) If taxes are eliminated, you'll
     need to purchase services that were formerly provided by government.
     (2) If taxes are eliminated, the economics of wages have changed, and
     wages will change as well.

     Here's a really ludicrous (but real) example of (1): "With taxation
     gone, not only will we have twice as much money to spend, but it will
     go twice as far, since those who produce goods and services won't have
     to pay taxes, either. In one stroke we'll be effectively four times as
     rich. Let's figure that deregulation will cut prices, once again, by
     half. Now our actual purchasing power, already quadrupled by
     deTAXification, is doubled again. We now have eight times our former
     wealth!" (L. Neil Smith)

     And here's an example of (2): "I'm self-employed. My pay would
     absolutely, positively go up 15+% tomorrow if I wasn't paying
     FICA/Medicare." But only briefly. Standard microeconomic theory applies
     just as well to someone selling labor as to someone selling widgits. If
     FICA disappeared, your competitors in the market to sell labor would be
     attracted to the higher wages and would sell more labor. This increase
     in supply of labor would drive down your wage from the 15% increase.
     You'd earn more (per hour). But less than 15% more.

 21. We lived in a fairly libertarian society in the US 150 years ago.

     A classic libertarian roll-back-the-clock argument, that sounds good at
     first because none of us directly remembers it. Libertarians do usually
     remember and criticize some of the more prominent non-libertarian
     features of that period, such as unequal protection under the law for
     blacks and women. However, they seem to overlook a lot of other
     important things.

     Yes, the Federal government had a much lighter hand then. However,
     state and local governments had a much greater influence. There is not
     one class of positive duty or obligation in the US today that did not
     exist 200 years ago at state or federal level.

     All the biggies were there except income tax. The equivalent of income
     tax was property tax (on all possessions) or head tax by many states.
     There was involuntary conscription, eminent domain, etc. As a matter of
     fact, things got much better when powers of states were interpreted to
     be restricted by the US constitution (much later.) Powers such as state
     religious authority.

     Also, society was organized quite differently before the industrial
     revolution spread to the US. Our "nation of shopkeepers" was actually a
     nation of farmers. The means of production were controlled primarily by
     the workers (who were the owners of the farms and shops.) Government of
     that era would be as out-of-place today as the tarriffs and scientific
     knowledge of that era.

 22. "Might Makes Right" is the principle behind statism.

     No, "Might makes ability to make something", Right or Wrong. You can't
     even try for Right until you have Might to back it up in the real
     world. That's the reason that some real governments have survived and
     all utopian governments that have tried to abolish force have failed.

     However, government is not alone in requiring might. All property is
     based on might as well. Nobody is beholden to your notions of what
     constitutes your property. Property is just as "involuntary" as the
     social contract. There is no moral obligation for anyone to respect
     your property: only a practical one.

     Recognition that the fundamental nature of property is based on force
     is essential to recognition that there are costs and benefits to the
     principle of property. It is not as negative a "right" as libertarians
     like to portray it.

 23. I want self-government, not other-government.

     "Self government" is libertarian newspeak for "everybody ought to be
     able to live as if they are the only human in the universe, if only
     they believe in the power of libertarianism." It's a utopian ideal like
     those of some Marxists and born-agains that would essentially require
     some sort of human perfection to work.

     More explicitly, "self government" is the peculiar notion that other
     people ought not to be able to regulate your behavior. Much as we would
     like to be free of such regulation, most people also want to be able to
     regulate the behavior of others for practical reasons. Some
     libertarians claim that they want the first so much, that they will be
     willing to forgo the second. Most other people feel that both are
     necessary (and that it would be hypocritical or stupid to want just

 24. Why shouldn't we adopt libertarian government now?

     Because there are no working examples of libertarian cities, states, or

     Innumerable other ideologies have put their money where their mouths
     are, if not their lives. Examples include most nations that have had
     Marxist revolutions, Israel, many of the American colonies, a huge
     number of religious and utopian communities, etc.

     Yet libertarians want us to risk what many of them consider the best
     nation in the world with their untested beliefs. It's not even sensible
     to convert here first for the claimed economic benefits of
     libertarianism: there would be less marginal benefit to converting the
     USA to a libertarian system than most other nations. Let libertarians
     bear the risk and cost of their own experiment.

     Let libertarians point to successful libertarian programs to seek our
     endorsement. For example, narcotic decriminalization in Holland has
     been a success. So has legalized prostitution in Nevada and Germany
     (and probably other places.) Privatization of some municipal services
     has been successful in some communities. But these are extremely small
     scale compared to the total libertarian agenda, and do not rule out
     emergent problems and instabilities of a full scale libertarian system.

 25. There's a conspiracy to prevent a working libertarian experiment.

     Right. Uh huh. [Read: sarcasm.]

     Libertarians sometimes cite the Minerva project (armed squatting on a
     Tongan island) and an attempted overthrow of the government of
     Suriname. If libertarians are too inept to compete internationally
     through diplomacy, politics, bribery, or force of arms, it hardly takes
     a conspiracy to explain that they lost. That's what sovereignty takes.

     A working libertarian experiment could be easily county sized. A tiny
     religious sect was able to buy control of Antelope, Oregon and relocate
     there a few years ago: the vastly more numerous libertarians could do
     much more. Privatize the roads, schools, libraries, police. Abolish
     property taxes, zoning, anything not required by the state. Then show
     the benefits. Yes, the state will prevent you from achieving some
     libertarian goals: do what you can to show how you can improve things.
     You shouldn't have to go 100% libertarian to show marked benefits
     according to most libertarian claims.

 26. An event is explained by the issue at hand.

     This is really a class of argument, "post hoc, ergo propter hoc", that
     is made all too often by arguers of all stripes. The claims made with
     this sort of argument by libertarians are innumerable. Counter examples
     and other issues that plainly had influence are usually extremely easy
     to find. Here are some real claims actually made in a.p.l.

     For example: "The automotive recession started in October 1989, which
     was the start of the requirement that some cars of each manufacturer be
     fitted with air bags... Perhaps the reason that car sales have gone
     down is that many consumers are not willing to pay for a car with air

     For example: "There are as many military reasons why the draft is bad
     as there are moral ones. Witness our success using a volunteer army
     versus a conscripted one."

     It would be possible to collect libertarian examples of the other
     classes of fallacies of argument, but this frequent one can serve as
     the exemplar. This particular one comes up a lot because of the lure of
     testing theory with reality.

 27. Haven't you read "Libertarianism in One Lesson"?

     Every belief system has its evangelistic writings, designed to help
     convince or draw in new members. The Campus Crusade for Christ uses
     "Evidence That Demands A Verdict", Scientology uses "Dianetics", and
     libertarians use "Libertarianism in One Lesson".

     All of these books are very convincing-- in the absence of
     counterargument. However, they are easily rebutted by skeptics because
     they MUST omit the exceptions to their point of view to be convincing.

     If I may cite a convert: "Libertarians like me believe in a simple
     morality-- everyone should be free to do what they like, so long as
     they don't initiate use of force... If you're not familiar with this
     morality, I urge you to read "Libertarianism in One Lesson", by David
     Bergland. I was personally shocked to find that things could be so
     neatly axiomatized, and what's even more remarkable is that in the
     empirical world, societies seem to me to be punished in an eye for an
     eye fashion from their deviation from this simple morality. We are
     deviating quite a bit and suffering accordingly... in my view this is
     why economic growth is stagnating, the inner cities are dying..."

     Any time I read how simple it is to understand the world through system
     X, I know I'm dealing with a convert from evangelistic writings. They
     blithely assert that their explanations show the true cause of current
     problems. And the key to showing them to be wrong, is to show that
     there's more complexity to the world than is encompassed by their
     simplistic explanations.

 28. Have you read "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority"?

     "No Treason" is a lengthy rant that doesn't take longer than the first
     paragraph to begin its egregious errors.

     For example, in the first paragraph: "It [The Constitution] purports,
     at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years
     ago." Thus he focuses his attention on the Preamble, and evidently
     ignores Article VII, which says EXACTLY who contracted for the

     "The ratification of the conventions of nine States shall be sufficient
     for the establishment of this Constitution between the States so
     ratifying the same. Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the
     States present, the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our
     Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, and of the
     Independence of the United States of America the twelfth. In Witness
     whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names."
     [signatories FOR STATES omitted.]

     He's wrong on this simple matter of fact: the constitution says who
     contracted with whom. But then he goes on to make a big deal about the
     people of that era being dead, as if contracts between organizations
     lapse when their office holders depart.

     The rest of his "analysis" is equally shoddy, and consists largely of
     calling government a collection of thieves and murderers at least 75
     times. David Friedman, in "The Machinery of Freedom", says Spooner
     "attacks the contract theory of government like a lawyer arguing a
     case": but REAL presentations of cases have to cope with
     counterarguments, and can't depend so heavily on invalid presumptions
     which are easily shot full of holes.

 29. Libertarians oppose the initiation of force.

     How noble. And I'm sure that in a real libertarian society, everybody
     would hold to this morality as much as Christians turn the other cheek.
     [ :-( For the sarcasm-impaired.]

     "Initiation of force" is another libertarian newspeak term that does
     not mean what the uninitiated might think. Libertarians except defense
     of property and prosecution of fraud, and call them retaliatory force.
     But retaliation can be the initiation of force: I don't need force to
     commit theft or fraud. This is a bit of rhetorical sleight of hand that
     libs like to play so that they can pretend they are different than
     government. You know: break a law (like not paying your taxes) and MEN
     WITH GUNS initiate force. Sorry, but you've gotta play fair: it can't
     be initiation for government and retaliation for you.

     Like most other non-pacifistic belief systems, libertarians want to
     initiate force for what they identify as their interests and call it
     righteous retaliation, and use the big lie technique to define
     everything else as evil "initiation of force". They support the initial
     force that has already taken place in the formation of the system of
     property, and wish to continue to use force to perpetuate it and make
     it more rigid.

     The National Libertarian Party membership form has "the pledge" on it:
     "I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of
     achieving political or social goals." It's quite amusing to hear how
     much libertarians disagree over what it means: whether it is or isn't
     ok to overthrow the US because it has "initiated force" and they would
     be "retaliating".

     Beyond this perceived class interest, libertarian dislike of
     "initiation of force" isn't much different than anyone else's. It may
     be humanitarian, defensive, etc.

 30. Dred Scott and the Fugitive Slave Laws were examples of government
     enforcement of slavery.

     No. There's a subtle distinction: they were enforcement of property
     rights of slaveowners. It was entirely the owners assertion that he was
     property that the government was acting upon. If the owner had at any
     time freed him, he would not have been a slave.

     Libertarians would love to lay slavery at the feet of government
     precisely because slavery is a sin of capitalism. The US government
     NEVER enslaved the blacks. The US government never said "you must now
     own this slave" or "you've never been a slave before, but you are one
     now." US slavery was initiated by capitalists.

     The US government was NOT in the business of proclaiming people free or
     slaves: that was a private sector responsibility until that Evil
     Statist Lincoln stole that sacred private right for the State. Until
     that time, only private, capitalist owners had the right to declare
     whether a black person was free or slave.

 31. The World's Smallest Political Quiz. [Nolan Test]

     This libertarian quiz asks a set of leading questions to tempt you to
     proclaim yourself a libertarian. The big trick is that if you answer
     yes to each question, you are a macho SELF GOVERNOR: there is an
     unspoken sneer to those who would answer anything else. It is an
     ideological litmus test.

     The most obvious criticism of this quiz is that it tries to graph the
     range of politics onto only 2 axes, as if they were the only two that
     mattered, rather than the two libertarians want the most change in. For
     example, if socialists were to create such a test, they would use a
     different set of axes.

     The second obvious criticism is typical of polls taken to show false
     levels of support: the questions are worded to elicit the desired
     response. This is called framing bias. For example, on a socialist
     test, you might see a question such as "Do you believe people should
     help each other?" Libertarians would answer "yes" to this question; the
     problem is the "but"s that are filtered out by the question format.

     Many libertarians use this as an "outreach" (read: evangelism) tool. By
     making it easy to get high scores on both axes, subjects can be told
     that they are already a libertarian and just didn't know it. This is
     the same sort of suckering that cold readers and other frauds use.

 32. The Libertarian Party: America's third largest political party.

     Wow, third! That sounds impressive until you realize that the
     Libertarian Party is about 0.1% of the size of the other two. Funny how
     they don't mention that in their slogan. I guess they should get a new
     slogan. Let's have a new slogan contest for the Libertarian Party!

        o A party a lot smaller than the Communists used to be?
        o The party that can't get as many votes as any one-shot third
        o The party that's elected fewer to national office than the
        o The party whose symbol is a big government statue.
        o The party with the oxymoronic name?
        o The party of Pat Paulson, uh, I mean Don Imus, uh, I mean Howard
        o America's Third Most Comical Political Party?
        o Preschool for hyperactive Republicans?

     Join in! Submit your slogan today!

     Almost as comical is the Libertarian Party's '94 election results. They
     now have even fewer elected dogcatchers and other important officials.
     Most notable, their loss of 2 out of 4 state reps in New Hampshire.

 33. You're a Statist!

     Don't be surprised if you receive some ad-hominem abuse from
     libertarian evangelists when you don't accept their arguments. It's no
     different than if a communist called you bourgeois or a Bircher called
     you a commie lover. Sometimes they'll go overboard and even accuse you
     of mental disease, at which time you can point out to them the fine
     company they keep: Stalin, Hitler, etc.

 34. Why do you spend so much time trying to debunk?

     As I told creationists who wondered why I bothered, it's interesting to
     me to study unusual beliefs for the same reason it's interesting for
     doctors to study pathologies. You don't have to catch a disease to be
     able to understand it, fight it, or vaccinate against it.


The purpose of bumper sticker phrases is not to enlighten: it is to
misdirect and channel your thoughts. That's a prime need for evangelism, and
thus we see a lot of these from libertarian evangelists.

Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850)

   * "Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws.
     On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property
     existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place."

     This quote is one of the central ideas of "The Law", a piece of
     philosophical propaganda full of errors and uncompelling arguments.
     Let's start with a simple demonstration of its ambiguity. Did men make
     laws to support or suppress life, liberty, and property? At first
     glance, since we like those three glittering generalities, we'd say
     support. But if we change the generalities and keep the "logic" the

     "Death, enslavement, and indigence do not exist because men have made
     laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that death, enslavement, and
     indigence existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first

     Now we'd say suppress. The fact is, this ringing statement can be
     interpreted to praise or damn law supporting or suppressing any

     Now, Bastiat does get more specific. If you read a few sentences
     further into "The Law", he presumes natural rights from god, a simple
     fallacy of reification (pretending an idea is a real thing.) But the
     real source of rights is might. Individuals don't have rights to
     protect their lives, liberty and property: they have miniscule powers
     to attempt to create such rights. Law is an attempt to benefit those
     within society by creating rights through conventions that reduce
     in-society conflict and utilize combined powers efficiently. Bastiat
     has the tail wagging the dog: collective rights being justified by
     individual rights, when in actual society individual rights are
     produced by collective might.

     It's hard to accept philosophy like this which starts by preferring
     imaginary rights to basic observable facts of society.

Lysander Spooner (1808-1887)

   * "A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new
     master once in a term of years."

     When you contract for government services, you are a customer, not a
     slave. If you think you cannot change with whom you contract, you have
     enslaved your self.

Thomas Jefferson

   * "A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring
     one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their
     own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the
     mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good
     government." (First Inaugural Address)

     Perhaps as an unreachable goal. Certainly Jefferson practiced
     differently than this would seem to imply he thought. For example,
     Jefferson supported compulsory tax-supported schools and kept slaves.
     Jefferson was very much a political pragmatist full of such
     contradictions, as any non-hagiographic biography will tell.

     But if you want get into a founder quoting contest, Ben Franklin wrote:
     "Private property ... is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the
     Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even
     to its last Farthing, its contributors therefore to the public
     Exigencies are not to be considered a Benefit on the Public, entitling
     the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honor and Power, but as the
     Return of an Obligation previously received, or as payment for a just
     Debt." We could find quite a few other appropriate quotes with a little

     Libertarians might endorse their interpretation of the initial quote
     without the backing of Jefferson: if so, let them present a working
     example of such a government before we take it as more than a utopian

   * "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of
     himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or
     have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history
     answer this question." (First Inaugural Address)

     History shows that the USA has been one of the best governments, by
     most people's standards, even libertarian. The last sentence indicates
     that Jefferson intended these as rhetorical questions, not as
     statements against all government. He also said (in the same address:

     "If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to
     change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of
     the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is
     left free to combat it."

     Jefferson clearly had more confidence in government than the initial
     quotation out of context would imply. If libertarians want to adopt
     this position (as some do), they'd be better off supporting it with
     something more than an appeal to the inconsistent authority of

Alexander Fraser Tyler

   * "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can
     only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves
     money from the Public Treasury. From that moment on, the majority
     always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the
     Public Treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over
     loose fiscal policy always followed by dictatorship." From: "The
     Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic".

     I wasn't aware that there was any "permanant form of government".
     However, we could make a pretty good case that voters in the US have
     always known that they could vote themselves benefits from the Public
     Treasury. Indeed, it's been done pretty often. Yet we've lasted 200+

     Unlike the Athenian Republic, in the USA the money in the Public
     Treasury comes directly from the pockets of the majority, the middle
     class. This might be the most significant deterrent to loose fiscal

Ayn Rand

   * "I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters."

     Did Ayn Rand pay her taxes out of friendship then? That's a new one on

Andre Marrou

   * "Liberals want the government to be your Mommy. Conservatives want
     government to be your Daddy. Libertarians want it to treat you like an

     Libertarians want to kill mommy and daddy so that they can stay up
     later and buy more ice cream than they can now.

     Bumper sticker analogies are as poor a method of understanding
     libertarianism (let alone anything else) as science fiction. Too bad so
     many libertarians make such heavy use of those methods.

James A. Donald

   * "We have the right to defend ourselves and our property, because of the
     kind of animals that we are. True law derives from this right, not from
     the arbitrary power of the omnipotent state."

     The two red-alert-for-a-whopper phrases in this quote are: "the kind of
     animals that we are" and "true law".

     People who compare us to animals usually know little about animals and
     less about people. If we look to animals for models we can find all
     sorts of unacceptable (and conflicting) behaviors which are entirely
     natural. Characterizations of humans as animals for most philosophical
     purposes have historically ignored sociological, anthropological, and
     sociobiological knowledge in favor of conveniently parochial

     There is no "true law". Innumerable political and religious sects might
     claim it, but I'd think that if there was such a thing, people could
     recognize it and agree on it.


   * "Mob rule isn't any prettier merely because the mob calls itself a

     Corporate feudalism isn't any prettier merely because the corporations
     prattle about free markets. Strawmen are SO easy to create.

     The presumption that the US government is the equivalent of mob rule is
     ludicrous. The assertion that libertarian anarchy would be better is
     unsupported by real examples. (Libertarian minarchy doesn't change the
     form of government from "mob rule".)

   * "It ain't charity if you are using someone else's money."

     Almost all charitable organizations use other people's money. Their
     real point is that the money used for government social programs is
     "coerced" (libertarian newspeak for taxes.) What they overlook is that,
     in many philosophical and religious systems (including Judaism and
     Islam), charity isn't a virtue of the giver: charity is the relief of
     the receiver.

   * "Utopia is not an option."

     This is the libertarian newspeak formula for overlooking problems with
     their ideas. Much like "Trust in Jesus". Used the way it commonly is,
     it means "libertarianism might do worse here: I don't want to make a
     comparison lest we lose."

     It is also another motherhood and apple pie issue; it applies to EVERY
     political theory. The question is what provisions are made for coping
     with necessary imperfections; libertarians tend to assume "the same as
     today but better", without any experience of what their proposed
     changes actually will do.

     According to Perry Metzger, who claims to have popularized the phrase,
     the correct usage is "you *have* to make a comparison of libertarianism
     against the existing system rather than against your ideals of what
     you'd like your system to do." However, since there is no real example
     of libertarianism, that would be comparing the real current system
     against an ideal libertarian system. That's hardly a fair or valid

     There is one valid way of using this phrase: to indicate that
     perfection is not a possible result. That is a rare usage.

   * "Democracy is like three wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for

     We are not a simple democracy: we are a representative democratic
     republic: there are not direct elections of laws and there is a
     constitution that limits what laws can be enacted. Extend the analogy
     to take that into account and lo and behold, it becomes: "deciding what
     to have for lunch that is not meat."

     Now, if you were making the analogy about anarcho-capitalism, it would
     become "three wolves competing to be first to 'add value' to the sheep
     by slaughtering it and sell it to the others."

     This is really a classic libertarian strawman, used by many flavors of
     anarchists for centuries. The authors of the US Constitution were well
     aware of this: they devoted a segment of the Federalist papers to it:
     "... it may be concluded that a pure democracy... can admit of no cure
     for the mischiefs of faction... A republic, by which I mean a
     government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a
     different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking."
     Federalist No. 10, James Madison.


Libertarianism does have a lot of philosophical literature which is much
more sophisticated than the evangelistic and bumper sticker arguments
critiqued above. However, much of it can be critiqued as fundamentally
flawed. James K. Galbraith, criticizing many economists, might well have
been criticizing libertarians when he wrote (in a letter in Slate, Nov. 5,

     I don't accept that much of use can be learned about policy in
     this way [well-structured deduction from metaphysical first
     principles.] When the world deviates from the principles, as it
     usually does, the simple lessons go astray. This is not a
     complaint against math. It is a complaint against indiscriminate
     application of the deductive method, sometimes called the
     Ricardian vice, to problems of human action. Mine is an old gripe
     against much of what professional economists do; not against
     science but against scientism, against the pretense of science. To
     combat it, I spend my research time wrestling with real-world
     data, and I spend much of my writing time warring against the
     policy ideas of aggressive, ahistorical deductivists.

A thorough discussion of problems of libertarian philosophy would be well
beyond the scope of this FAQ, though an overview might one day be developed.
In the mean time, a few sources are available at the "Critiques of
Libertarianism" site ( ), and
still better are a number of the excellent critical references listed below.


I am seeking references to critiques and analyses of libertarianism or its
positions, which seem to be very scarce. So far the following have been
found or recommended (special thanks to James Hammerton and Robert Lockard):

   * Walter Adams "The Bigness Complex" Pantheon Books, 1987. (opposes
     libertarian antitrust position)
   * Norman P. Barry "On Classical Liberalism and Libertarianism" MacMillan
   * Jeremy Bentham "Anarchical Fallacies"
   * John Bryant "Libertarian Dirt" Socratic Press, 1995. A ranting pamphlet
     about Murray Rothbard; 2/3 self promotion and blank pages.
   * George W. Downs and Patrick D. Larkey "The Search For Government
     Efficiency: From Hubris to Helplessness" Random House, 1986. A serious,
     scholarly study of efficiency. Not a polemic but very necessary to
     balance the government as inefficient polemics.
   * Charles T. Goodsell "The Case for Bureaucracy: A Public Administration
     Polemic" Chatham House, 1994. Reexamines empirical findings on U.S.
     bureaucratic performance, noting how well the American system really
   * Allen Buchanan "Ethics, Efficiency, and the Market" Rowman &
     Littlefield, 1985. From the cover: "... contains the most thorough and
     systematic analysis of economic and moral arguments both for and
     against the market as an instrument of resource allocation." The
     chapter, "Moral Arguments For and Against the Market" occupies most of
     the book.
   * G. A. Cohen "Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Studies in Marxism
     and Social Theory)" Cambridge Univ Press, 1995.
   * John Gray "Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common
     Environment" Routledge 1994. John Gray once held views very close to
     libertarianism, but in this book he repudiates both neoclassical
     liberalism and libertarianism. Chapter 3, "The Moral Foundations of
     Market Institutions" contains some strong criticisms of the libertarian
   * Donald P. Green "Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory" Yale University
     Press, 1994. A serious, scholarly study of the intellectual failures of
     Rational Choice Theory.
   * Alan Haworth "Anti-Libertarianism: Markets, Philosophy, and Myth"
     Routledge 1994.
   * Dennis Henigan, Bruce Nicholson, David Hemenway "Guns and the
     Constitution" Aletheia Press 1995. A book-length FAQ of refutations of
     the gun-ownership propganda and mythology promulgated by the NRA and
     gleefully parrotted by libertarians. Essential reading.
   * William E. Hudson "American Democracy in Peril" Chatham House, 1996.
     Chapter 3 "The second challenge: radical individualism" has a
     subsection "The flaws of libertarianism."
   * Attracta Ingram "A Political Theory of Rights" Oxford University Press
     1994. Ingram argues that the libertertarian concept of self-ownership
     is inadequate, and proposes a (much more complex) theory of rights
     based in a principle of self-government. Chapters 1-3, form a useful
     exposition and critique of the standard libertarian position.
   * Roland Kley "Hayek's Social and Political Thought" Oxford University
     Press 1994. Shows that Hayek's concept of a spontaneous order doesn't
     stand up to scrutiny, undermining a body of theory libertarians often
     draw upon to show that free markets work.
   * Will Kymlicka "Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction"
     Clarendon Press, 1990. Now the standard text in the field; very highly
     regarded. Has a long chapter on libertarianism. Not at all kind to it.
   * Steven Luper-Foy "The Possibility of Knowledge: Nozick and His Critics"
   * Stephen L. Newman "Liberalism at Wits' End: The Libertarian Revolt
     Against the Modern State" Cornell University Press in 1984
   * William J. Novak "The People's Welfare: Law and Regulation in
     Nineteenth-Century America" Univ. of North Carolina Pr., 1996. "Blasts
     to pieces... the libertarian fantasy that until the twentieth century
     the American state left private property owners and economic
     entrepreneurs alone." --Robert W. Gordon, Yale Law School.
   * Jeffrey Paul, editor "Reading Nozick" (anthology of essays about
     "Anarchy, State, And Utopia")
   * L.A. Rollins "The Myth of Natural Rights"
   * Robbins, John W "Answer to Ayn Rand : A critique of the philosophy of
   * Schartz, Peter "Libertarianism: The perversion of liberty" (Article)
   * Thomas A. Spragens, Jr. "The Limitations of Libertarianism." RESPONSIVE
     COMMUNITY (Spring 1992)45-47. (Part 2.)
   * James P. Sterba "Contemporary Social and Political Philosophy"
     Wadsworth, 1994. His chapter on libertarianism makes the argument that,
     "... the right to a social minimum endorsed by welfare liberals is also
     required by the libertarian's own ideal of liberty."
   * James P. Sterba "Morality in Practice" Fifth edition, Wadsworth, 1997.
     Another statement of the above argument. A longer version of this
     article will appear as "Reconciling Liberty and Equality or Why
     Libertarians must be Socialists" in Liberty and Equality, edited by
     Larry May and Jonothan Schonsheck (MIT, 1996).
   * Lars Udehn "The Limits of Public Choice: A sociological critique of the
     economic theory of politics" (Routledge 1996).
   * Robert Anton Wilson "Natural Law"
   * Donald A. Wittman "The Myth of Democratic Failure: Why Political
     Institutions Are Efficient" University of Chicago Press, 1995. "...
     refutes one of the cornerstone beliefs of economics and political
     science: that economic markets are more efficient than the processes
     and institutions of democratic government."
   * Jonathan Wolff "Robert Nozick: Propery, Justice and the Minimal State"
     Blackwell 1991. (Details Nozick's political theory and exposes its
     flaws and incompleteness.)

I've yet to read most of these, and welcome reviews, summaries, and better


   * Bergland, David "Libertarianism in One Lesson"
   * Friedman, David "The Machinery of Freedom"
   * Marshall, Peter "Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism"
   * Spooner, Lysander "No Treason"


Thanks to many people who have contributed directly or indirectly to this
FAQ. Some specific recommendations have come from (in alphabetical order):

Ken Arromdee (
Chris Auld (auld@econ01.econ.QueensU.CA)
Paul Barton-Davis (
Bruce Baugh (
Jeffrey Bolden (
Daniel Brown (
Steven Burnap (
Caliban (
Merle Christopher (
Ervan Darnell (
Lamont Granquist (
James A Hammerton
Chris Holt (
Aman Jabbi (Amandeep.Jabbi@Eng.Sun.COM)
Steve Kangas (
Jim Larson (jsl@zeus.Jpl.Nasa.Gov)
Robert Lockard (
Calvin Bruce Ostrum (
Glen Raphael (
Scott Susin (ssusin@econ.Berkeley.EDU)
Russell Turpin (
Bob Waldrop (
Matthew Daniel Walker (

I owe a debt to the many people with whom I have discussed libertarianism on
the net whose ideas have helped to inform and shape my own.

Mike Huben ( )

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index ]

Send corrections/additions to the FAQ Maintainer:

Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM