Crisis and Libertarians

Crisis and Libertarians

There is a debate between two camps I’ll charitably call Reasonable Libertarians and Educated Libertarians.* Reasonable libertarians care about being respectable. Educated libertarians are concerned with being correct.


The key differences between the two groups become more evident in a crisis. In fact, the insights described in this article were developed during past crises including 9/11, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the bank crisis/housing crash, and several mass shootings. This article was written during a global pandemic.

Reasonable libertarians believe that their ideology is a helpful guide, but they gobble up and consume reported facts to arrive at a more scientific conclusion. Educated libertarians are suspicious of first through door “facts” because experience has taught them that future information – which appears long after the drive-by media has moved on – undermines and even contradicts the earliest reported facts. To state the difference more bluntly, reasonable libertarians are reading today’s New York Times, and educated libertarians are reading history books.

The two groups also look at authority figures differently. The reasonable libertarian wants to seem, well, “reasonable,” given that all the news seems to point in a given direction. They’re worried that doctrinaire libertarianism will leave a bad taste in most people’s mouths. The educated libertarian often doesn’t enjoy going against the tide, but they’ve learned that libertarianism has predictive power to see what the media isn’t telling us. Eventually, everyone comes around. When that happens, the educated libertarian wants their friends and family to ask, “How did you know?” To sum up the difference, as news breaks, the reasonable libertarian is more likely to cite establishment authorities, while the educated libertarian is more likely to be suspicious of them.

Both reasonable libertarians and educated libertarians are capable of nuance, and they each value precision. But the reasonable libertarian is a bit more likely to cite a statistic while the educated libertarian is a bit more likely to lean on logic. And this gets directly to how they analyze a societal challenge.

The reasonable libertarian will say that facts are your friend. They are willing to accept those facts as evidence that government action is valid. But they would insist that the resulting policies be narrowly tailored to make them as libertarian as possible. Their research shapes their response.

The educated libertarian will say that principles are your pal. They would instinctively reject any State interventions as fear-based power plays with damaging consequences. Their libertarian response shapes their research.

I happen to be an educated libertarian. I truly love my reasonable libertarian brothers and sisters. The reasonable libertarians tend to have advanced degrees and tremendous intellects. They are part of the expert class. They use their scholarly skills to make me think. During normal times, I spend a great deal of time absorbing their thinking because it’s so rational and sound. But in a crisis, in the dark alley of doubt, I want an educated libertarian at my side who won’t succumb to the hysterical hype of the moment.

Postscript: The Educated Libertarian is confident that the Reasonable Libertarians will find evidence that the State actually failed after the crisis has passed. As a complement to this editorial, the author recommends Socialists and their Silly Stories by Donald J. Boudreaux.

* There’s also a third libertarian group, not covered here. This group presumes Emmanuel’s Law – “never let a crisis go to waste” – is in effect. Their views often include some degree of conspiracy.

Jim Babka is the Editor-at-Large for Advocates for Self-Government and the co-creator of the Zero Aggression Project.

Comment section

8 thoughts on “Crisis and Libertarians

  1. Hummm… What happens when one is both as I am?

    I saw the Corona numbers, and while assuming that there was a margin of error that we would have to wait to discover, I also looked at the numbers fed to us and said; “I don’t get it, according the government’s own numbers, there is no justification for the panic. It appeared that the flu has killed more people this year. And if the supposed number of 30 million people have the virus but are showing no symptoms, is true, then the death toll is SUBSTANTIALLY lower than the flu’s death toll. I don’t recall shutting down the economy and assuredly bringing on a depression, and then ramping up the printing presses to guarantee hyper-inflation because of the flu.”

    so clearly I’m both, I accept the government’s numbers, and still see the foolishness in the mess that they decided to create.

  2. Those definitions are a totally biased, remake of our deep conflict of visions — pro-liberty vs anti-government.

    Pro-liberty (reasonable) are FAR more educated than anti-gummint, with a focus on REALITY. “How far can we advance individual liberty NOW.” Each and every expansion of liberty will necessarily shrink or limit government.

    But slashing government (so-called purists) can have the opposite effect, and most often REJECTS free-market OUTCOMES. Consider Medicaid, for absolute proof.
    In a free market (pre-Medicaid, since the 1500s), indigent health care provided 100% TREATMENT, regardless of age or income. Provided by Charity Hospitals and segments of non-charity hospitals. Original financing was by British Guilds in the 1500s. By the late 1800s, as healthcare became more costly, the British guilds had evolved to ethnic and fraternal lodges in the US … prior to FDR.

    Ironically, for-profit health insurers were largely created by FDR! The lodges could not switch to employer groups, which is how private insurance grew from a tiny fraction of the market place.

    ORIGINAL libertarians — “educated” on free markets, have always promoted a transition back to private charity, typically with tax CREDITS for donations to appropriate charities and foundations. It MUST be a transition, because the entire private infrastructure must be rebuilt — which the supposedly-educated libertarians sneer at, “conspiring with statists.” Yes, sneering at free markets, because their “education” consists of memorized slogans and soundbites. And they have no clue what free markets WERE.

    THINK: People have always wanted. and willingly paid for, universal treatment. If Bernie and Elizabeth are the ONLY ones even trying to provide what people have always wanted and been willing to pay for … who wins and who loses?

    Jefferson and Rand both agreed. Consent of the governed vs …. tyranny.

    The biggest failing of ant-gummint libertarians is they have no clue how to CREATE/EVOLVE a free society, and no interest in doing so. Apparently, they believe a free society will spring into existence, spontaneously, like a weed. Yes, it must be evolved … a process which traces to the Enlightenment. It took 500 years to get where we are now, and we have a LOT more to go.

    The final proof, the Cato-financed survey, conducted by a major independent pollster, which found 59% of Americans would SELF-define with libertarian values, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. That’s now well over 60%, on marriage equality alone. But that was only half of a Brand Image survey. The “product” (libertarian values) is favored by a growing majority of Americans. Now, how does those same people rate the label, libertarian? Well, the label was REJECTED by 91% of those with libertarian values. Only 9% would self-identify as libertarian.

    In marketing terms, the libertarian brand is “toxic”. Ask any marketing professional in brand management. That means the brand is DEAD. It’s cheaper to launch a new brand than to ever try repairing the current brand.

    And they reject us, because we’ve rejected them, in our arrogance. FACT: a libertarian society is the OPPOSITE of a free society.

    ***In a LIBERTARIAN society, we all live in gated communities with private police forces and competing court systems. John Galt’s statue stands in every town square. And all 1218 of Mary Ruwart’s definition of a free society are empowered.
    (everyone like me, like the Moonies, Davidians and Jim Jones’ People’s Temple … the very definition of a cult)

    ***In a FREE society, Galt’s Gulch exists right next to a Marxist commune … lesbians up the street from a community of Christian Fundies …. retired Catholic priests across the field from Wiccans. Each community would be voluntarily populated. And that statue would be Voltaire, inscribed: “I disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”

    Liberty is a mutual benefit society. Not a members only Country Club.

    (By publishing this, the Advocates literally trashes the World’s Smallest Political Quiz. It’s. not just the movement which has died)

    Americans are now open to even radical change, which happens only once or twice per century … but the “educated libertarian” elites have NO policy proposals, for anything, anything at all. FACT: They cannot show how to do ANYTHING better than now. Just whine a lot.

    The people are ready. But we’ve wasted over 50 years, and are now locked into some Ivory Tower … masturbating.

  3. Lol Hihn.

    Go back to cluttering the Reason comment section with a new sock! You’re right that being TOO dogmatic is not productive, but you’re wrong about so much else.

  4. There are two kinds of libertarians: Libertarians who divide each other into two groups, and libertarians who don’t.

    Divide and be conquered should be the LP motto.

    The article says, “the insights described in this article were developed during past crises including 9/11, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the bank crisis/housing crash, and several mass shootings.” And yet nothing from any of those previous crisis is cited or referenced in the article. So I think this article attempts to adopt the veneer of “educated,” but without any of the substance.

    Libertarians approach everything from thousands of viewpoints as individual as themselves. That diversity makes the libertarian philosophy profoundly resilient and as strong as the free market. Because we all arrive at the same conclusion — government’s only proper role is securing individual rights.

    For myself, I approach this crisis from a Constitutional angle. The Constitution gives no emergency powers to government — nor even the slightest bit of authority to shut down the market. Therefore, the government’s reaction — even if seemingly reasonable — is a unconstitutional, tyrannical, unethical, and a pure power grab.

    What should the government do? They should ADVISE people to engage in distancing, disinfecting, sanitation, and work-from-home efforts. But they have no authority to order anything or anyone.

    Should I insult my political allies for reaching the same conclusion a different way?

  5. How about the Rational Libertarian?
    We realize that some government is necessary, a minimum.
    As a highly educated Libertarian, I believe that since the War of 1812 the government has never done anything right. The absolute wrong decisions were made every time a decision WAS made.
    Pandering bureaucracy became the default government…all of which needs to be dismantled.
    The Constitution is all we need.
    No one had the “right” to tell me to do anything.

  6. I suppose there are even more sub-sets of libertarians. This is no time for tallies.
    Take note of P.J. O’Rourke’s Quote:
    “When buying & selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought & sold are the legislators”. Except, this time the legislation was called a “mandate” or an “order”. However, they never really stopped me from doing or not doing certain things, or most anything for that matter; living in a rural area has its “liberties”, I suppose. I make the call as I see fit (for myself). Consider me a Real Libertarian.

  7. Thinking about all this through the prism of a tragic economic lockdown that is harming everyone, but that is hurting those with the least the most, one reason tone deaf and economically illiterate politicians arguably feel comfortable shutting down the economy is a consequence of the ubiquity of high-speed internet.

    This rates a lot of attention when it’s remembered that the $2 trillion redistributed from those most likely to invest to those least likely to invest is set to increase by many trillions.

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