On Libertarian Arrogance


Recently, I was privy to an exchange on social media that highlighted the intellectual and moral arrogance observed in many libertarians. Certain members of the Liberty Movement seem to be so sure of their superiority that they miss the authoritarian allure of a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Turning a blind eye (or turning up our noses) at those we disagree with will not help advance the ideas about individual rights, the rule of law, benefits of markets, or any of the other foundations upon which so many of us base our worldviews if not our careers.

Rather than dismiss those arguments that we happen to disagree with by claiming some de facto intellectual, empirical, or moral superiority, we should instead be willing to engage with conservative and liberal arguments on their own terms. There is simply no better way to refute bad arguments, improve electoral opportunities, and gain adherents to ideas that have been indispensable in shaping the freedom and prosperity of the western world.

Conservatives want the United States to maintain a large military and take an active role in the security of the western world, arguably to the point of adventurism. Why? Not because they hate peace, or like war, or are unaware of the ability of markets and free exchange to forge peaceful relations between nation states through repeat interactions. But because from their ideological perspective, the United States is the protector of the western order, and the world is a dangerous place. That does not make conservatives stupid, intellectually lazy, or immoral.

Liberals believe that society has an affirmative duty to provide a strong social safety net and other benefits to poor and disadvantaged individuals through action by the government. Why? Not because they never took basic economics in high school, or are socialists, or are unaware that such heavy tax and spending systems can become unsustainable in the long run. But because from their ideological perspective, the United States, as one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, cannot claim to be great unless it ensures that those most vulnerable in our society are given an equal chance. That does not make liberals stupid, intellectually lazy, or immoral.

And both liberals and conservatives seem to believe, despite their varying views on immigration policy and supranational organizations, that Westphalian nation states should continue to exist, that borders serve valuable purposes for individuals and society, and should also continue to exist. Make all the arguments you want to the contrary. May the echo chamber provide you the comfort that electoral losses and relegation to the political fringe never will.

Libertarians do not possess the exclusive right to define reality for other people. That is simply not how human beings psychologically function. If you want to convince someone of something, talk to them. Engage with their worldview and arguments. Understand their concerns. One of my mentors in college was apt to say: “You gain nothing by refusing to consider the concerns of others.” Whether an argument is right or wrong, dismissing it by calling the person making it stupid, intellectually lazy, or immoral, instead of engaging with them thoughtfully, does not reflect well on the Liberty Movement or the person being dismissive.

An ideological perspective that alienates the other 90% of the population because it demands purity over political pragmatism will not gain adherents to the Liberty Movement, improve electoral prospects, or successfully advance the ideas of liberty to the greater population.

Timothy Snowball is a third year Juris Doctor candidate at The George Washington University Law School who is interested in constitutional law, history, and government. Tim holds degrees in political science from the University of California Berkeley and Grossmont College in San Diego.

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