Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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In Search of a Good Libertarianism Elevator Pitch

with 4 comments

So I just realized something reading Johan Norberg’s refutation of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine in reason’s October issue [the reason article is not yet posted online, but here’s a similar article Norberg wrote for Cato in May]. It is a point that is probably painfully obvious (you must forgive me these Libertarianism 101-ish observations from time to time, dears; I never took a political science or econ class in my life, and only three years ago my political convictions failed to go much beyond ‘anti-war, anti-drug-criminalization, pro-gay-rights’ — a position that, at the time, I believed made me a Democrat). But I just that realized one of the mistakes Norberg accuses Klein of making—equating free-market capitalism with corporatism and neoconservatism—is probably the fundamental reason I have trouble convincing my friend libertarians aren’t evil (and why, despite capitalism having pretty much been proven the only viable economic system, we still see hoards of assorted malcontents protesting capitalism in college towns the country over). People can’t separate capitalism, as a system or philosophy, from the greed, corruption, etc. that individual actors within the system sometimes exhibit; or they’re convinced, somehow, that this is a bug (or a feature, I guess, depending on who’s motives they’re impugning) endemic to capitalism alone.

I’ve been refuting a lot of straw-libertarians lately, if you can’t tell. I had a conversation the other day with one of my most staunchly anti-libertarian friends, who had just finished reading John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” and had then found out it was considered a cornerstone of the classical liberal, and hence libertarian, philosophy. She told me this couldn’t possibly be so. “But it makes so much sense! And it defends the individual! That’s totally at odds with everything libertarians are about!’ (Um …? ) The problem I run into in these conversations is that if I try to be big picture (well, libertarianism is based strongly on the classical liberal idea of natural rights, and …) I get accused of being too broad (‘Yes, but what does that mean in terms of today’s policies?’), but if I begin to just enumerate various policy positions, I get accused of just nonsensical laundry-listing and asked to please explain how it all ties together. I can’t win. As an erstwhile strategic communication student, you’d think I’d more deftly be able to craft a compelling libertarian narrative, a political raison d’etre, but clearly something in my framing is all off. Can someone please give me a good libertarianism elevator pitch?

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Written by Elizabeth

September 24, 2008 at 5:21 pm

4 Responses

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  1. A week later and no one has stepped up? Interesting…

    jbls

    September 30, 2008 at 4:35 pm

  2. Shush.

    Elizabeth

    September 30, 2008 at 10:08 pm

  3. I don’t have anything to offer – since I’m not a libertarian – but I will say that it surprises me to see leftists railing against capitalism. I mean, damn, I thought people grew out of the “anti-capitalism phase” in high school.

    Jamelle

    October 4, 2008 at 10:11 pm

  4. Mid-college, at least …

    Elizabeth

    October 6, 2008 at 7:34 pm


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