Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Libertarian catechism

Day 0: The Libertarian catechism
Day 1: It's popular and successful, so it must be stopped! (summary) (response)
Day 2: Jackbooted thugs (summary) (response)
Day 3: The sophisticated theology of the market (summary) (response)
Day 4: Economics as theology
Day 5: A socialized straw man
Day 6: The cause of, and solution to, all the world's problems (summary) (response)
Day 7: An unproductive critique

In a display of synchronicity too odd to dismiss (as Bokonon says, "Unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.") Allen Small recommends Robert Wenzel's The 30 Day Reading List that will Lead You to Becoming a Knowledgeable Libertarian just as I begin my winter break and am free for a month from my academic and professional responsibilities. So, on his suggestion, I will tackle one article each day every other day (on average, excluding holidays), read it carefully, and post a summary and response.

I've chosen the title of this post advisedly. A quick survey of the first few articles reveals, unsurprisingly, a tone I became intimately familiar with before I ever thought about studying economics: Christian apologetics. Libertarianism, as presented by Wenzel and endorsed by Small, is a faith. Indeed, a luminary no less than Ludvig von Mises explicitly equates economics and religious faith: the "particular theorems [of economics] are not open to any verification or falsification on the ground of experience. . . . The ultimate yardstick of an economic theorem's correctness or incorrectness is solely reason unaided by experience." Without exception, all of the first half dozen of the articles tell the reader what to believe; they do not even attempt to persuade the skeptical, critical reader. It is, so far, pure catechism. We'll see how later works play out, but I strongly suspect that, like Christianity, we'll move from catechism to Sophisticated Theology, with the only hint of science or critical thought being an adoption of the forms and vocabulary of skepticism without its actual content.

I will do my best to get through the series, but I make no guarantees.

See you on the other side!


  1. While I admire your commitment, I have to ask: why do you keep engaging Allen Small? It's not like he's ever going to change his mind, or listens to evidence. (He recently did a post complaining about how Canadian healthcare is too expensive, even though the model he champions is essentially the one the U.S. has, which is, you know, much more expensive.) I mean, you're basically beating your head against a wall, here.

  2. Oh, I have no illusions about my ability to change Small's mind. However, I think my readers will benefit from a thorough examination of as close to "canonical" libertarianism as I can find.

    Plus, I'm taking American Conservative Political Thought next semester, so this investigation should give me some good material for class.

  3. And the only reason I actually read Allen Small in the first place is that he's syndicated on Planet Atheism.

  4. See, that's where we differ. I read Planet Atheism too, in fact that's how I read your stuff unless I'm commenting or it has "below the fold" content that I want to read, but I learned a long time ago to automatically skip anything with the "Allen Small" byline. (I also don't watch video content. Anywhere. I've found that nothing worth saying is ever put on a blog as video; the very few exceptions are so rare that I'd rather miss out than bother with the mass of garbage.)

  5. I usually skip over Small's stuff too, but I read fast enough that sometimes I've read the whole post before my brain has processed "Allen Small, probably bullshit, move on."

    AFAIK, I don't ever put stuff below the fold.

    I concur with you on video content. Waste of time, but some people like it, I guess.


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