The big tent of libertarianism

ImageIn the United States, the term “libertarian” has been co-opted by a narrowly defined ultra-capitalist conservative philosophy embraced by the US Libertarian Party, and by some factions within the Republican Party. But the word has always had a much broader meaning, encompassing many distinct legal and philosophical views. Some libertarians¬† claim to have devised complete philosophical foundations for ethics and government, but others adopt a situational approach to problems of applied ethics and law.

Yesterday, over at the Friendly Atheist site, blogger Terry Firma “came out” as a libertarian. What’s great about Terry’s post is that he highlights progressive aspects of his views. He believes in a progressive income tax and single payer health care — ideas that are not typically associated with Libertarian Party USA. I love Terry’s post because I consider myself to be the same kind of libertarian, and I’ve met plenty of like-minded progressive libertarians over the years, but we’re often lumped in with the Ayn-Rand-Tea-Partier-gun-lover-climate-change-denier cult that has been so loud in recent years.

I previously wrote some very critical remarks about the Ayn Rand variant of Libertarianism, which has become a dominant influence in the US Libertarian and Conservative political movements. There is no shortage of problems with Randian thinking. But “Libertarianism” refers to a diverse collection of philosophical approaches to ethics, politics and law, and the entire batch should not be dismissed because of a few bad eggs.

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Pseudo-scholarship and the Libertarians

Tower in DinanIn this post I consider the definition of pseudo-scholarship as something more subtle than pseudo-science, and I examine an essay by Ayn Rand as an example. This post examines some poor aspects of libertarianism that, in my opinion, are “not even wrong.” In a future post I will return to libertarianism and explain aspects that I think are both scholarly and extremely good, and are supported by real evidence. Until then, let’s start with some of the negative items…

During a recent debate over libertarianism, I was drawn into a deeply layered argument that ranged from Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy and broader libertarian thinking, to Natural Rights theory and the scholarly value of meta-ethics. The discussion was also invaded by Holocaust revisionism, creating a very murky situation. Most effort in the skeptic community is directed toward pseudo-science, which is easily defined — e.g., theories that contradict observed evidence, or that make claims that are untestable or deceptive. But when it comes to the humanities and social or political sciences, the distinction is not so obvious.
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