What’s wrong with libertarianism: an explanation of post-libertarianism

(EDIT, 5 FEB 2015: For an example of how awesomely “post-libertarianism” works in practice, check out this superb suggestion from the Adam Smith Institute (of which I’m a fellow) here.)

Thanks to the ASI’s Sam Bowman and Ben Southwood, and the Liberty League’s Anton Howes, for bringing this excellent article by Jeffrey Friedman to my attention:

Libertarians… should understand better than anyone the importance of subverting one’s own natural intellectual complacency with the constant reminder that one might be wrong. The only remedy for the sloppiness that has plagued libertarian scholarship is to become one’s own harshest critic. This means thinking deeply and skeptically about one’s politics and its premises and, if one has libertarian sympathies, directing one’s scholarship not at vindicating them, but at finding out if they are mistaken.

To transcend libertarianism, in short, is to view its underlying concerns as stimuli to research that may, or may not, produce libertarian conclusions. In this sense there is no reason that non-libertarians might not make better post-libertarians than libertarians themselves. But for libertarians, the benefits of transcendence are greater. Only if one divorces oneself from all attachment to libertarian ideology does it become possible to dispel the gnawing fear that the facts will not bear out one’s predetermined conclusions.

This – the perpetual obligation to defend a position before one has the necessary information to assess its accuracy – is a terrible burden to bear. The consequentialist libertarian, having made the leap from skeptic to prophet, comes to identify himself with his political convictions. So he lives, or should live, in fear that the next social problem or environmental threat or economic crisis will be the one that finally shows those convictions to be inadequate.

This is the psychological problem for which orthodox libertarianism is a palliative. Once consequentialism is overlaid with “philosophy,” one should, in principle, have no fear: libertarianism is right, come what may. But among conscientious libertarians the fear persists beneath the surface; as Boaz understands, the consequences of libertarianism remain important to libertarians, even when they try to bury such concerns beneath layers of ideological sediment.

-Jeffrey Friedman, “What’s Wrong with Libertarianism,” 1997

Note that “Formalizing and Securing Relationships on Public Networks” was also published in 1997. Consider whether it’s time the practice of crypto caught up with the intellectual tradition it claims as its guidepost.

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