The New Republic staff writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig recently penned a devastating critique of libertarians, where she argued that the beliefs of self-described libertarians do not square with the central tenet of “freedom” that (allegedly) underlies libertarianism. She links to a wonderful Pew Research Center study, which she uses to base her takedowns and factually demolish libertarians bit. By. Bit.
Here is a play-by-play of her critique:
1) After quoting porn-famous Belle Knox on her move toward libertarianism after a strict Catholic upbringing, Bruenig notes that “Insofar as libertarianism is opposed to almost every feature of Catholic morality, Knox has certainly picked an appropriate politics of rebellion.”
Why this demolished libertarians: Catholicism teaches us to help the poor. Libertarians hate the poor, as evidenced by their desire to almost completely dismantle the safety net. Sure, they might argue government programs are inefficient or fail to stop poverty – but they only say this to cover up their elitist distaste of poor people. The truth is that even if these programs are inefficient, it doesn’t matter, because what they do is they show our commitment – as a society – to recognize the plight of the poor. You can’t put a price on dignity – and we want to restore the dignity of our lower class!
2) Relying on her careful reading of the Pew study, Bruenig concludes that “libertarians themselves do not appear to have a good sense of what libertarianism actually means.” You want evidence? Here is the evidence.
Why this demolished libertarians: According to the Pew study, 14% of Americans identify as libertarians. Furthermore, 11% of all Americans both identify as libertarian and at the same time know what libertarianism is. That means that 11/14 = 78% of people who identify as libertarians actually know what libertarianism means. And what does that mean? It means that more than 1 in 5 self-described libertarians doesn’t understand what libertarianism means!!
People who do not foolishly choose to identify with that political label of teenage rebellion are a different matter. The study notes that 57% of all Americans know what libertarianism means. If we remove the mere 11% of the population that is both libertarian and knows what the label means, that means that 46% of the population is both non-libertarian and knows what the label means. 46/86 = 54% of non-libertarians know what libertarianism is. That is, more than 2.5 out of every 5 self-described non-libertarians know what libertarianism means. And last time I checked 2.5/5 is, well, 2.5 times more than 1/5! If you eat 2000 calories a day, 2.5 times more than that is 5000 calories a day. Can you imagine that?!
3) Bruenig points out that “libertarians polled as far more supportive of police intervention in citizens’ daily lives, showing greater support for stop-and-frisk policies than the general population” [emphasis mine].
Why this demolished libertarians: Bruenig is not afraid to cite her sources, and even shows us a diagram from the study that backs her claim (red elements mine):
Notice that libertarians are a whole 1% more likely to allow police to stop/search all who look like crime suspects. And before libertarians start crying out that 1% “is within margin of error” or some made-up excuse like that (after all, they hate statistics because reality has a strong liberal bias), let me point out that 1% of the US population is more than 3 million people. That’s a lot of people, people!! The data proves it – libertarians, while pretending to be pro-freedom, actually support intervention into our lives far, far more than the general population!
4) Continuing, we learn that “A baffling quarter of libertarians surveyed believe homosexuality should be discouraged.” Do you know what I think should be discouraged? Libertarianism! If you didn’t think they were barbarians before, how can you have any doubt now? Libertarians think that homosexuals (or whatever awful slang word libertarians probably use at home to describe them) are no better than animals.
Why this demolished libertarians: Once again, just look at the source data, and the picture becomes clear: when it comes to hating gays, libertarians are unparalleled:
Notice that 26% of libertarians (even more than Bruenig had humbly cited!) think homosexuality should be “discouraged” – as if our neighbors and family members who are homosexual just “choose” to be gay and to be ostracized by society. Let me remind you, people, 26% is an enormous number!
How do non-libertarians compare? We just need to solve the equation 0.11*26 + x*89 = 31. Solving it, x=31.6, which means 31.6% of non-libertarians favor discouraging homosexuality. That means that almost 69% of non-libertarians are against discouraging homosexuality! If you need me to do the math for you, libertAynrians, the number 69 is more than 2.5 times bigger than 26! We see that 2.5 pop up again. Weird, huh?
5) Of course, Bruenig, being a master writer, also interweaves humor into her narrative: “Knox is only 19 years old, so we can hardly fault her for these contradictions.”
Why this demolished libertarians: Don’t you get it? Only teenagers could be libertarians, because teenagers are so immature and don’t know what the real world is like! Libertarians harbor ideas so far out of touch with reality, that even though they pretend to love “economics”, no libertarian (or person supporting any libertarian ideas) could ever win any legitimate prize in economics like the Nobel Prize.
6) She just keeps going for Belle: “For Belle Knox, freedom has to do with decriminalized sex work and fair pathways for women in employment—but both of those projects imply a level of proactive government regulation in business.”
Why this demolished libertarians: Can’t libertarians get it? Decriminalization of sex work means that we will need to regulate it. It’s obvious that, therefore, libertarians support a policy that would add regulation to the market: We’d go from a laissez-faire, completely unregulated and uncontrolled ban on sex work that requires no government intervention to a legalized industry with some regulations!
7) Bruenig calls the libertarians polled “jingoistic” – and once again her source backs her. When we look at the real, objective data, only 46% of libertarians think US involvement makes world problems worse, while the corresponding number for the entire US population is significantly higher: 40%!
Why this demolished libertarians: 54% of libertarians don’t think US involvement makes world problems worse. 40% of the general population understands that US involvement makes things worse. Would you rather be with 54 warmongers or 40 peaceful people? I thought so.
8) She just keeps going: “Libertarians who oppose government aid to the poor seem to desire freedom from taxes, but have no interest in whether or not the poorest are really free to exercise their rights to human flourishing when they can barely eat.”
Why this demolished libertarians: Read my lips: If you oppose the current welfare system, you think all poor people should die. Period.
9) Bruenig finishes the article off by telling us that “for genuine, invested activists like Knox, the evasiveness of the libertarian message should be a red flag.” A wise warning indeed.
Why this demolished libertarians: Belle is a teenager, and teenagers are stupid, so we know she’s genuine and invested. But other libertarians are not excused.
Berry demolished Elizabeth’s “column,” and it was insightful.
Well, given a choice between ignorance and dishonesty, which would you prefer? Stop. I already know the author’s answer. The author prefers dishonesty.
Referring to Rand as a “failed screenwriter” rather than a “successful author” is an example.
Claiming that “libertarianism is opposed to almost every feature of Catholic morality” is another. Libertarianism has no specific morality. It is about individual choice, and about promoting the democratic process via states’ rights. It is about allowing *diversity* in morality by encouraging ideological solutions that are as local as possible. The poll results the author cites are clearly intended to suggest ideological “confusion” among libertarians; all they really do suggest is *diversity*. We are not collectivists. We do not all think alike. We do not all demand the same solutions from government. We do, however, agree that *the government is not the best source of solutions to social problems*. We do agree that society should be allowed to change organically, as the result of ordinary social evolution at its own pace, and not as the result of legislation forced onto unwilling hundreds of millions. We do agree that social solutions do not have permanent, one-size-fits-all solutions, but instead are a constant in society, a consequence of living in civilization, and will have to be re-addressed by each generation and in each locality according to the prevailing social conditions in those settings.
And the author gets basic Catholicism wrong too. The church doesn’t advocate for *government policy* to help the poor, and in this, it agrees fully with libertarianism. There is a difference between taking personal action to help people, and demanding that government do it.
There are some other poll results the author should look into, such as the fact that liberals are very selfish when it comes to *personally* helping out charities, as compared to conservatives (including right-libertarians). There is a major difference between assuming that your charitable obligations are discharged by paying taxes, and going the extra mile to help out personally. Conservatives do this; liberals do not.
We do not have a working definition of what freedom is? You lie. Freedom is self-ownership. Freedom is the condition that exists when we are free of coercion, when the Non-Aggression Principle is in play.
We have no interest in whether the poor can eat? You lie. We do more, individually, to help poor people (and all kinds of disadvantaged people) than liberals do. And we do it *better than government* can. Allow us to keep more of our money, and see how vast a difference it makes. Americans are the most charitable people on the planet. We more than have it in us to see to everybody who needs help. The liberal error here is in assuming that everyone who *needs* help *deserves* help, or that everybody must be compelled to help those whose lifestyles and choices are an affront to our own. Let us CHOOSE who to help. Kinship matters. There is a patron out there, somewhere, for every victim, no matter how depraved. We shouldn’t all be compelled to be everybody’s patron. Government aid is notoriously inefficient, notoriously perverse in incentive, and notoriously expensive. It’s not charity if you’re forced into it.
The author clearly has a bone to pick with libertarianism, and hopes that her readers are ignorant enough about it to be easily led to her favored conclusion. No mention of self-ownership. No mention of the Non-Aggression Principle.
You should be ashamed of yourself, Elizabeth. Either you’re as ignorant as you’re claiming Knox is–in which case, I hope I’ve alleviated some of your ignorance–or you’re just dishonest, in which case you should be hounded out of journalism.
You should be thoroughly embarrassed, Michael. Before spouting off about “demolishing,” be sure you understand the position that’s being attacked…as well as the structural weaknesses in the attack.
Did you read the post here?
I can assure you that it was thoroughly, thoroughly sarcastic. Michael in no way was genuinely defending Bruenig’s awful argument.
Byff, thanks for the long and well-worded response. I urge you, if you have time, to reread my post, and pay careful attention to the way I interpret the statistics, and in one place how I even literally say that 40% is more than 46%. This article was meant to be critiquing Bruenig’s article by pointing out how she completely misrepresents the statistics she quotes. I am in full (or, possibly, nearily full) agreement with your points 🙂
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