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Libertarian fallacy of imperfection.

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21 replies to this topic

#1
RSalar

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I was asked to start a new thread to help me understand why the libertarian fallacy of imperfection is a fallacy. I tried doing a search on this site and a complete Internet search using Google to no avail. I didn't even know there was such a thing, never mind why the fallacy is a fallacy. Could someone please A:) tell me what the libertarian fallacy of imperfection is, B:) why it is a fallacy, and C:) what this fallacy has to do with individual rights and/or the right of one nation to protect itself against foreign threats. Thank-you, RSalar

#2
DavidOdden

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Okay, libertarianism is founded on an idealization, that proper men and governments act ideally, in totally respecting individual rights. Therefore, any action in contradiction to that assumption is completely wrong and immoral, and all political systems and individuals which do not fully respect rights are indistinguishable in any significant way. For a libertarian, any violation of rights is a total banishment to the Phantom Zone, where decent men do not even look.

A corollary of this rights-absolutist position is that actual electoral and legislative politics is morally impossible in the modern context, since whatever law you are interested in or whatever office you're running for, that government will violate individual rights, and association with any such rights violations is repugnant for the libertarian. A truly moral libertarian would be psychologically very tortured if they were to associate with any government, because that government would be imperfect, and it is not possible to rationally act qua libertarian in the context of such rights-violating imperfection.

So for example, the US government is imperfect as a protector of rights, as are very many other basically rights-respecting governments. Still, that bit of imperfection does not mean that the US government has no right to defend its citizens against attack by a foreign government. The libertarian fallacy of imperfection holds that since the US government is imperfect and the North Korean government is imperfect, they are essentially the same, and the US has no more of a right to preemptively attack North Korea than North Korea would have to preemptively attack the US.

This is a fallacy because it contradictorily depends on but then ignores the purpose of government and the nature of rights. The purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens; if a government violates the rights of its citizens, it is not acting according to its proper function in that respect, and it has no right to act in contradiction to its function in that respect the fallacy then concludes that a partially rights-violating government has no right to act in any respect, and thus cannot properly act to protect the rights of its citizens.

The cure here is to understand that even if a government violates some rights, we cannot conclude that all actions by the government are rights-violating. There are, unquestionably, savage uncivilized governments which characteristically violate people's rights -- for example, Taliban Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Turkmenistan. These are completely different from the governments of the US, Norway, England and yes, even France. The dictatorships so utterly fail at their function of protecting citizen's rights that we can correctly conclude that those governments do not have any right to exist; when they threaten our very existence, our government not only has the right but indeed the obligation to eliminate the threat. Here is where Zimbabwe and Turkmenistan might get a temporary pass -- they do not actually pose any threat to the US, so we could put off dealing with them. Although, Afghanistan was not an obvious threat, and see where that got us.

Dave Odden


#3
Vladimir Berkov

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Is there any hard evidence that this is actually the libertarian position?

#4
DavidOdden

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Is there any hard evidence that this is actually the libertarian position?

Is there any hard evidence that there is such a thing as "the" libertarian position on anything? Since libertarianism is not a coherent philosophy, the most you can ever hope for is to extract libertarian modes of thinking. This is one: there have been a number of libertarians posting on this very forum, and by looking at their writings, you can verify that this is a commonly-held libertarian position. Another common tack, for libertarians, is to simply avoid thinking about or discussing what is the right way for the US to defend itself from attack. The response "wait until the bombs actually explode in the US, then you can go to war" is not a politically brilliant position to be putting out there, hence silence can be golden.

Dave Odden


#5
hunterrose

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I don't think what you're saying especially applies to non-anarchist libertarians.

Doesn't "proper men act ideally" means that men who are rational act... rationally?
Excluding minarchism, I think libertarians would say that government "acts" non-ideally.
And I've never seen a (non-anarchist) libertarian say that the US is indistinguishable from, say, the USSR.

The libertarian fallacy of imperfection holds that since the US government is imperfect and the North Korean government is imperfect, they are essentially the same, and the US has no more of a right to preemptively attack North Korea than North Korea would have to preemptively attack the US.

Whether or not it is a libertarian one, that does sound like a fallacy.

Wouldn't the opposite fallacy be that if nation A is infinitesimally more "perfect" than nation B, then nation A has the right to defend itself against B and B has no defensive rights against A?

The purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens; if a government violates the rights of its citizens, it is not acting according to its proper function in that respect, and it has no right to act in contradiction to its function in that respect

In other words, if a government violates the rights of its citizens, then it has no right to defend the rights of its citizens?

The cure here is to understand that even if a government violates some rights, we cannot conclude that all actions by the government are rights-violating.

Does this apply to all imperfect nations?

#6
DarkWaters

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Okay, libertarianism is founded on an idealization, that proper men and governments act ideally, in totally respecting individual rights. Therefore, any action in contradiction to that assumption is completely wrong and immoral, and all political systems and individuals which do not fully respect rights are indistinguishable in any significant way.


Who is the originator of this idea or at least, who is (are) the intellectual(s) responsible for its dissemination?
"The man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled."
~Andrew Carnegie

"[N]othing to me is more revolting ..., But once war is forced on us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War's very object is victory -- not prolonged indecision. In war, indeed, there can be no substitute for victory."
~General Douglas MacArthur

#7
DavidOdden

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Who is the originator of this idea or at least, who is (are) the intellectual(s) responsible for its dissemination?

I don't really know since I don't keep up with libertarian thinking. Chomsky and Rothbard are the most prominent figures that I know of. I don't think it's important how the idea gets promulgated: what it important, as far as I am concerned, is whether RSalar will repudiate the idea. But notice that Hunterrose seems to have made the leap in his question "In other words, if a government violates the rights of its citizens, then it has no right to defend the rights of its citizens?" based on my highly limited (and nearly self-evident statement that "if a government violates the rights of its citizens, it is not acting according to its proper function in that respect, and it has no right to act in contradiction to its function in that respect".

Dave Odden


#8
Marc K.

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And I've never seen a (non-anarchist) libertarian say that the US is indistinguishable from, say, the USSR.

Does this mean that you are an anarchist?

#9
RSalar

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The theory that libertarians believe what DavidOdden says they believe is new to me. My understanding of why Ayn Rand rejected their philosophy was because it was based on “freedom.” Meaning that the philosophy was wrong because “freedom” quo freedom has no limit. Meaning that free people should be free to do whatever they want. This is a contradiction because one person’s freedom would necessarily impede upon another person freedom. In reality no person has the right to unlimited freedom because no one can have the right to violate another person’s rights. Each person’s freedom therefore is limited by the rights that all men have equally. If I recall correctly Ayn Rand put it thus: One man’s right to punch ends at the other man’s nose.

I do not know of any official Libertarian writing that states the position that DavidOdden has presented. Perhaps he is correct, but if so, I think it would be appropriate for him to provide the source material from which he has drawn his conclusions.

#10
hunterrose

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Does this mean that you are an anarchist?

... not particularly?

At any rate, what I meant was that DavidOdden's characterization seems to apply to a very select subgroup of libertarians, and not to libertarians as a whole. He didn't state that; someone should :)

Hunterrose seems to have made the leap

Hmm, I totally missed the second "in that respect." How careless of me.

My mistakes ;) aside, the fallacy of perfection

The fallacy of perfection holds that the US government is more perfect and the North Korean government is less perfect, therefore the US has the right to preemptively defend itself against North Korea in any and every effective manner while North Korea has no defensive rights against the US.

is just as fallacious as the fallacy of imperfection (and even more prevalent.)

The cure here is to understand that even if a government violates some rights, we cannot conclude that all actions by the government are rights-violating.

I totally agree with this well-worded statement. Contradicting it is the source of both fallacies (it applies to good nations and bad nations... right?)

There are, unquestionably, savage uncivilized governments which characteristically violate people's rights -- for example, Taliban Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Turkmenistan.

Do these nations have any defensive rights against foreign attack? If they "don't", then what's the point of defanging one fallacy (of imperfection) ... and simultaneously enshrining another?

#11
Inspector

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Do these nations have any defensive rights against foreign attack?


States that systematically violate their citizens rights have no right to defend themselves against free nations. Their only right to self-defense would be if an equally or more murderous state attacked them with the intent of imposing a worse rule.

#12
DavidOdden

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At any rate, what I meant was that DavidOdden's characterization seems to apply to a very select subgroup of libertarians, and not to libertarians as a whole. He didn't state that; someone should ;)

Since the original point was about the fallacy and not about the libertarians, I replied to RSalar's question without intending to make a strong claim about the extent to which this is a defining characteristic of libertarianism. It is an identifier -- if you read writings by libertarians, you will recognise the idea in their writing. Mr. Berkov pointed out the scope problem, which I acknowledged, noting that in fact there is no such thing as "the libertarian position" since libertarianism isn't a definable philosophy. My personal observations of libertarians is that nearly all of them hold to the isolationist credo, and a reading of the posts of Charlotte Corday, Tom Robinson and Eric Mathis (some of the more prolific and representative libertarian visitors here) will hopefully persuade you that these are beliefs that libertarians characteristically -- thought not definitionally or universally -- hold.

The fallacy of perfection holds that the US government is more perfect and the North Korean government is less perfect, therefore the US has the right to preemptively defend itself against North Korea in any and every effective manner while North Korea has no defensive rights against the US.

is just as fallacious as the fallacy of imperfection (and even more prevalent.)

That's the wrong identification. The right of the US to defend itself against attack by aliens is not based on comparative goodness of government. The US has the right to defend itself against attack by anyone. If someone were to say that Americas right to exist is contingent on who is attacking it, that would indeed be a laughable fallacy. I try to attack any advocate of the opposite fallacy, though being imperfect, some posts may slip through the cracks.

Do these nations have any defensive rights against foreign attack? If they "don't", then what's the point of defanging one fallacy (of imperfection) ... and simultaneously enshrining another?

No, they "don't". (Huh??) The question that you should have asked is whether the governments of Taliban Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Turkmenistan rightfully exist: that is the distinguishing characteristic. The function of government is to protect the rights of its citizens, and those governments utterly fail to fulfill that function. They do not simply make errors in judging what constitutes protection of rights, they completely and wholesaledly reject the civilized concept of human rights, and only protect the rights of some individual purely by accident.

So to bring this back into focus, a government has a right to exist only to protect the rights of its citizens. If a government does in fact exist for some other reason (providing perverted psychological thrills to the monarch who fakes self esteem by enslaving others, as a means of acting out a religious psychopathy, or as a means of enriching oneself at the expense of the lives of others), then its purpose is not proper for human existence -- it should be snuffed out. A practical distinction can be made between passive dictatorships such as in Zimbabwe and aggressive dictatorships such as in North Korea. North Korea actually does pose an active threat to the US, and the US should preemptively neutralize that threat to our existence. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, is not in fact a threat to the US. There would be nothing wrong with the US throwing Mugabe out, but the government does not have a duty to American citizens to do so.

Note, then, that the question of whether the US taxes its citizens plays no role whatsoever in this analysis. That is, a wrongful act by the US government does not mean that it is incapable of any rightful acts, such as preemptively neutralizing a threat to our very existence.

Dave Odden


#13
DavidOdden

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States that systematically violate their citizens rights have no right to defend themselves against free nations. Their only right to self-defense would be if an equally or more murderous state attacked them with the intent of imposing a worse rule.

This should be more general: their only right to self-defense would be if any state attacked them with the intent of imposing a worse rule. That would manifestly not be the case if the US attacked North Korea. If Turkmenistan were to attack North Korea (I hold that North Korea is much worse than Turkmenistan) with the psychotic intention of kiling half of the population (which is about the only thing that could make the lives of North Koreans any worse), it would not be wrong for the North Korean government to defend the country against the attack. But that's a science fiction scenario -- once a government evolves to the point that it correctly grasps the concept of "rights" and "proper function of government" as applied to its own citizens, it will be able to apply those same concepts to other men. So there is no real chance that moderately oppressive regime will decide to become harshly oppressive of others. Comparison of rights-respectingness of nations becomes relevant only in judging whether the other nation is likely to deny vs. restore rights. US military actions have been rightful not because the US is a freer nation, but because they have in fact been rightful -- designed to liberate the enslaved and to defend American rights.

Dave Odden


#14
Inspector

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David,

I'd agree totally but I think you may have a bad example with your hypothetical scenario; even a war of liberation might well kill half the population, depending. I assume you meant that generically, as in "something worse than what the DPRK does."

I will grant that it's a tall order to come up with something worse than the DPRK.

Other than that, yes, it is the intent of the invasion rather than the rights-levels of the nations. Generally, this intent in in sync with said rights levels (which is why I put it that way), but I suppose not necessarily so.

Edited by Inspector, 17 October 2006 - 02:35 AM.


#15
Rex Little

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And I've never seen a (non-anarchist) libertarian say that the US is indistinguishable from, say, the USSR.

Hell, even anarchist libertarians don't say that. David (son of Milton) Friedman, a self-proclaimed anarchist libertarian, wrote the following in his book The Machinery of Freedom: "I'd rather pay taxes to Washington than Moscow; the rates are lower." (I may not have the quote exactly right, but that was the essence.)

#16
mrocktor

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Hell, even anarchist libertarians don't say that. David (son of Milton) Friedman, a self-proclaimed anarchist libertarian, wrote the following in his book The Machinery of Freedom: "I'd rather pay taxes to Washington than Moscow; the rates are lower." (I may not have the quote exactly right, but that was the essence.)


Well you've just proven the point you tried to refute. That is a statement of qualitative equivalence between the USA and despotism.

#17
RSalar

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My personal observations of libertarians is that nearly all of them hold to the isolationist credo, and a reading of the posts of Charlotte Corday, Tom Robinson and Eric Mathis (some of the more prolific and representative libertarian visitors here) will hopefully persuade you that these are beliefs that libertarians characteristically -- thought not definitionally or universally -- hold.

When you say, "My personal observations ..." without reference to specific statements, you demonstrate the subjective nature of your analysis. Can you supply the actual language used by these Libertarians that you are using to form you “personal observations”? Where did you come up with the concept you call the, “Libertarian fallacy of imperfection?” Did you just make it up?

#18
DavidOdden

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Drop it. If you doubt that this is a typical libertarian position, it is of no concern to me. You are again demonstrating your exquisite interest in irreleventia. Try to remember the question -- does a nation have the right to preemptively attack an aggressor, in order to prevent an attack on them.

Dave Odden


#19
FeatherFall

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I have been presented with this fallacy in personal conversations. The people are not always Libertarians, and I don't know if its relative prevalency within the ranks of the Libertarians is enough to name the fallacy after them specifically. My personal experience leads me to believe that a good number of them seem to ascribe to it, though it isn't unique to them.

#20
Marc K.

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And I've never seen a (non-anarchist) libertarian say that the US is indistinguishable from, say, the USSR.


Does this mean that you are an anarchist?


... not particularly?


The reason I asked is because you seem to have trouble distinguishing the US from, say, the USSR.

#21
hunterrose

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[A bad nation's] only right to self-defense would be if any state attacked them with the intent of imposing a worse rule.

This can be taken two ways
  • A bad nation's only right to defend its government's existence would be if any state attacked them with the intent of imposing a worse rule.
  • A bad nation's only right to defend its people's existence would be if any state attacked them with the intent of imposing a worse rule.
I agree with the first, but wouldn't with the second.

You seem to have trouble distinguishing the US from, say, the USSR.

Maybe. But what did I say to give that impression? I like to understand the rationales of different thoughts on this matter, so don't take my questions as necessarily adopting or attacking a position.

Part of my "trouble" is that I don't think the concept of "rights" properly applies to nations (collective entities). I don't think there are conflicts of rights, but I do think there are physical conflicts in which all involved nations (initiators and initiated upon) can be acting properly.

#22
Marc K.

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you seem to have trouble distinguishing the US from, say, the USSR.


Maybe.


Thanks for the honesty.


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