A funny Twitter rant came across my feed today,

…you fucking level one rookie bitch-ass commentators on Twitter – I don’t understand it – you not foolin’ a libertarian by bringing up them bitch-ass roads!

Indeed.

The dismissive critics of libertarianism, and they are legion, somehow think that they “gotcha” a group of people who spend enormous chunks of free time pondering and arguing minutiae of the philosophy with a smug question about public roads, concocted with perhaps 5 seconds of conscious thought. It’s such a common occurrence that libertarians have turned to mocking these critics with the phrase “Muh Roads!” A Google search of that phrase produces countless memes. It also points at countless libertarian analyses of the issue, including this one on the website that Eric July, the above-referenced ranter, co-founded.

I’m not going to rehash the various libertarian answers (and they are themselves legion) to “Muh Roads!,” other than to offer one take I published here on this blog: the idea of strict user-fee taxation (which is what we’ve already got, to some degree, though it is terribly mismanaged and routinely raided for other purposes). That’s a mild one – there are many versions out there that would take government out of the picture entirely.

Instead, there are two broader points to note.

First, to echo Eric July’s rant, if you come up with a quick “whatabout…” rejection of libertarianism, rest assured we’ve thought of it and we’ve got an answer. Odds are, you can figure that answer out yourself if you take just a few more seconds to ponder the matter. Whether our answer holds up? THAT is where debate lies, and that’s one things that libertarians love to do: argue amongst themselves about the details of non-government solutions to societal needs and wants. If you think a libertarian solution won’t work, challenge it. As famed libertarian Penn Jillette often notes, all he wants is that we ask “can we do this without government” before bringing government into the picture. I’m not an anarchist – I think there’s a role for government in our society, but “level one rookie” counterarguments are as likely to make me wave you off as an unserious person as to engage you in reasoned debate.

Second, such rejoinders are a combination of two insidious tactics, meant to dismiss the entirety of the philosophy and preserve the big-government status quo:

Washington Monument Syndrome: What’s the first thing that government does when funds run dry, or when cuts are threatened? It closes national parks, it slows down emergency services, it cuts the most visible, most directly-connected to the public, and the most popular services it provides. Why? To play on public fears and sentiments, to imply that there’s no room for spending cuts, and to deflect away from its gross profligacy, its inefficiency, its miles-long list of programs that aren’t of high importance (or of any importance) to the public, but are merely public-service welfare or special-interest boondoggles. In other words, protect the fat by screaming about having to cut the vitals.

Argument Against Perfection/Reductio Ad Absurdum: Challengers of libertarianism often run to a mythical end-state of zero government, and argue about why that’d be impossible and unworkable and terrible (one writer haughtily notes that “all philosophies must ultimately confront reality”). In doing so, they ignore the fact that this will never happen, and that any libertarian who’s taking the time to argue for liberty is, by necessity, an incrementalist looking to shrink government here, get government out of there, and protect individuals’ rights against particular incursions. “Muh Roads!” is echoed, from this perspective, by those who rebut the Second Amendment with “Do you think people should be allowed to own nuclear bombs. That I chose to devote an installment of my Gun Rights Lessons series to this ridiculous question shows that a – it comes up often enough, and b – we’ve already thought about it.

Political tribalists often don’t like libertarians, because we’re not as easy to rebut with the canned arguments that go back-and-forth between Dems and Repubs, and because they see us as “bleeding” their bases and eroding their ballot-box tallies. As sure as the sunrise, we’re going to see an increase in (insulting and condescending) excoriations of those who declare their plans to vote third party in the next election, based on the false presumption that we are foolish and ill-considered idealists who, by virtue of our third-party votes, are abetting the electoral success of the other side, no matter which other side that happens to be (Herself recently declared Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party candidate, a “Russian asset” that cost her the election).

Bereft of stock answers written for them by their favored news and opinion outlets, many tribalists (Left and Right) resort to “level one rookie” rejections of libertarianism, like “Muh Roads!,” “nuclear bombs,” “you hate the poor!,” “you hate the environment!,” and other “I’m so clever and original” blurts. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who’ve put real thought into why they don’t like this or that libertarian idea, or libertarianism in general. There are, and I argue with them all the time. But, they’re not the ones who fire off “What about the roads!?” and consider their rebuttal complete. To flog a dead horse, it’s not original, it’s not clever, and it’s already been pondered in FAR greater detail that you imagine.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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