How to Argue with a Libertarian
Libertarians come in two flavors: Sociopath and Confused. With the latter, it is possible to argue; the former should best seek professional help.
What is a Libertarian? A person who believes that a so-called free market will cure all of the world’s woes. Government, and in particular, taxation, is wasteful and prevents the fruition of individual merit and recompense.
If our Libertarian is clear thinking about his or her position, and thus a sociopath, she will be ready to admit that because she is economically comfortable, or would be without those pesky taxes, everyone else can go to hell. She’ll say things like it’s the victims of hurricane Katrina’s own fault that they chose not to leave. Certainly she would have left… And will be quite clear in asserting that she matters more than other people because she is more competent than other people in some way that is particularly valuable to her. While it may be diverting to question her moral culpability, the argument doesn’t have legs to move forward. You’re starting from too divergent a base premise: that people do owe something to each other and should use the government toward that end, or, everyone can go to hell.
The Confused class are more salvageable. They’re uncomfortable (on a sliding scale) with writing other people off. This tortures their argument. For example, this afternoon I was arguing with an acquaintance from undergrad who has since gone IT Libertarian. J. is well intentioned but believes, amongst other things, that without taxes we’d have no FEMA, and without FEMA there would be no one to bungle New Orleans. All you have to do to beat a well intentioned Libertarian is follow their logic.
Okay, I’ll admit, obviously, that FEMA was a disaster in New Orleans, but, would the absence of any government help be preferable? Here our soft libertarian will dodge, and offer something like “well the people in New Orleans knew in advance and should have gotten out. It’s their own fault if they didn’t.” And for the poor without cars? “Well…we still don’t need FEMA, it was the other states that really helped.” This is where you pin him: And where did the other states get the money to do that? The answer: taxes.
It’s likely your libertarian will have begun by complaining about taxes, and may even have said something with which you generally agree, like: your taxes are being spent to fund genocide in Gaza. Here too suggest that they’re right about Gaza/Iraq/Afghanistan/whatever, but it doesn’t logically follow to abolish all taxes because taxes also fund education, medicare, social security. All of those services, however inefficient and in need of repair, are preferable to their absence. If our well intentioned Lib is to be honest with himself, he’ll see that his argument is either sociopathic because he has to write off caring for others, or leads back to the need for taxes and a government.
If, on the topic of Katrina, he mentions Blackwater taking away peoples guns (another Libertarian no-no) you can point him to this article on vigilante lynching in New Orleans. And anyway, isn’t Blackwater the free market in force? They don’t get to complain about that one.
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