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10 approaches in making a case for liberty or anarchy

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Graham Wright Posted: Fri, Jun 25 2010 5:11 PM

I've been reflecting on the approaches I use when I'm making a case for liberty or anarchy.  I've come up with 10 fairly distinct approaches I use.  I thought we might put our heads together and come up with more, or at least have an interesting discussion about how successful these approaches are with different types of people: intelligent/unintelligent, politically opinionated/apathetic, leftists/rightists, etc.

1. The ‘Gun in the Room’ Approach

Governments require taxation; taxation is theft; theft is unethical.  By advocating government, you are advocating something unethical.  You are saying you have no problem with a criminal gang stealing my money from me using threats of violence. 

2. The Free Market v Monopoly Approach

Calculation problem.  Knowledge Problem.  Incentives.   With free markets comes quality, low price, efficiency, diversity and choice.  Monopolies are necessarily aggressive, corrupt, inefficient, and ineffective in satisfying consumer demand.  Arguments should be completely general…  The monopoly on law should be emphasized: we have bad quality laws because law is currently produced by a monopolist. 

3. The Secession Approach

National boundaries are arbitrary, imaginary lines drawn on political maps and set by the outcomes of historical wars.  Any advocate of government must propose some ideal territorial size that a nation should be, as well as his ideal form, scope and policies of government.  If a group of people within a nation want to declare independence, secede and create their own smaller nation, who should decide whether this is allowed to happen: the people seceding, or the government they are trying to secede from?  The latter is clear slavery and justifies world government.  And if the former, if a group of people have the right to secede, then by the same argument, individuals have the right to secede.  Individual secessionism is anarchism.

4. The ‘Competing Governments’ Approach

How can we know what type of government is best?  Trying them out could be a good way.  Let a thousand nations bloom.  Or tens of thousands.  Let the many micro-national governments compete with each other, and see under which type of government the people become most prosperous?  Why not even try having more than one government in one territory?  ;-)

5. The Government-as-Slavery Approach

A slave is someone who has the fruits of his labor taken off him by his master.  The master sets the rules, telling the slave what he can and can’t do, using threats or acts of violence.  The slaves massively outnumber the masters, but the slaves have been brainwashed, confused and distracted, and have accepted their condition of slavery.  They have given up on the idea on freedom; they don’t think they will be able to survive without the master around to take care of them.  Let’s abolish slavery: become an anarchist.

6. The Voluntarism Approach

We can distinguish between two types of trade between individuals: free trade, and coerced trade.  The former is when both individuals are making the trade voluntarily.  The latter is when one individual is using threats or acts of violence to coerce the other individual into making the trade.  Libertarians believe that initiating a coercive trade (aggression) is unjust.  Statists, on the other hand, advocate the use of aggression; aggression is required for a state, a monolist of law in a given territory, to exist.

7. The Historical Approach

USA v USSR; East Germany v West Germany; North Korea v South Korea.  Why did the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Scientific/Industrial Revolution take place in Europe?  How did the US become the richest nation in the world?  The historical lesson: freedom good, government bad. 

8. The Paradigmatic Approach

The left-right paradigm is misleading; left and right are just forms of statism when what matters is the degree of statism; the more meaningful and useful paradigm is Liberty-Totalitarianism; all major political parties are towards the totalitarian end of it.

9. The ‘True Democracy’ Approach

Democracy can be described as ‘power to the people’.  Yet anarchy is the only condition where all 'the people' have the power they need the most: the power to defend themselves.  Statism is a system where the people have no power to stop a gang of thieves stealing their money and enslaving them through legislation and regulation.  The state gives some privileged few people the power to rule over many others; a power that nobody should have.  Democracy is a great fiction where everybody attempts to live at the expense of everyone else; everybody votes to try and get the state to use it's coercive power to benefit them.

10. The ‘Real Equality’ Approach

Only anarchy will create the only type of equality worth having: equality under the law.  Anarchy is the only true classless society, where no individual is above the law.  Only when there is free entry into the industry of producing law will we have acheived equality.

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fakename replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 5:25 PM

Yeah, I like and agree with these trulib, but is it just me or is it rather more true that the statists have to make the intellectual effort to meet us half-way in argument? In far too many scenarios the statist argues against the anarchist to prove his point. But that actually misses the true purpose of argument -the unveiling of truth. Unless both parties (anarchist included) are willing to make this their goal, then the two will inevitably talk right past each other and we will have gotten not one jot closer to liberty.

 

Also to add to your point about democracy, the market it occurs to me is like a giant representative democracy where the rich receive more votes than the poor and to complain about this is -to the contrary of our statists friends -undemocratic.

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Coase replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 6:07 PM

I can't see any of these approaches persuading someone who doesn't already accept them. They're too far removed from what the typical person has been taught. For every one you persuade, you'll make ten think that your beliefs are pretty crazy.

One thing I find is that you can't "start in the middle," so to speak. Trying to have an argument about health care or financial markets with your typical statist, especially the economically ignorant, is simply futile. You need to start at the beginning because most people really have no grasp of why freedom, markets, and property rights are a good thing or how they manage to work so well. This makes things difficult because basic economics can't be taught in ten minutes, so I'm not really sure how you persuade people who aren't at least somewhat interested in economics.

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Yeah, I like and agree with these trulib, but is it just me or is it rather more true that the statists have to make the intellectual effort to meet us half-way in argument? In far too many scenarios the statist argues against the anarchist to prove his point. But that actually misses the true purpose of argument -the unveiling of truth. Unless both parties (anarchist included) are willing to make this their goal, then the two will inevitably talk right past each other and we will have gotten not one jot closer to liberty.

I don't understand your question.  The type of discussion I have in mind is the everyday, real-life kind, with strangers or people who don't really know your political views.  When I say something most people consider extreme and unusual during general conversation - like minimum wage laws should be abolished, all drugs should be legal, or government should not fund schools - people generally want to know more.  I usually tell them pretty quickly my position - no government, private laws/security, only voluntary exchanges allowed.  Then there's that look of bemusement where they're not sure if you are serious, then realise you are.  Then what do you say?  They want to know why the hell I support the thing they fear the most: anarchy, scary anarchy! 

So this isn't an argument searching for a truth.  It's about presentation and approach.  My goal is to spark some interest in anarchy or liberty, teach a little bit about it, give them some things to think about.

Also to add to your point about democracy, the market it occurs to me is like a giant representative democracy where the rich receive more votes than the poor and to complain about this is -to the contrary of our statists friends -undemocratic.

I agree.  I actually had this down as an approach but left it off my 'top 10'.  Here is how I worded it...

The Market as Democracy Approach

The market can be seen as a superior form of democracy, in terms of producing things that people actually want.  In a market, what is produced is determined by how many people want something and how much they want it.  The structure of production is altered to satisy the masses more efficiently through the market than through democratic government, and the market includes all individuals, not just the majority.  In a market, entrepreneurs alter the structure of production.  The profits available to an entrepreneur with an idea for a new product is a factor of both how many people will want this product and how much they want it (measured by how much they are willing to pay for it (how else?)).  This is in contrast to political democracy, where each person has a single vote and the structure of production is altered coercively and wealth redistributed, according (at least in theory) only to how many people want it.  That is, political democracy fails to take into account how strongly people feel about things.  The mechanisms through which governments try to learn public opinion and react to it are inferior to the mechanisms through which the market adjusts.

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Coase replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 6:35 PM

What will you say when they argue that markets produce monopoly?

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"What will you say when they argue that markets produce monopoly?"

http://www.capitalism.org/faq/monopolies.htm

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Coase replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 7:19 PM

Think about how many US history classes that web page has to compete against.

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I can't see any of these approaches persuading someone who doesn't already accept them.

Well in a sense this is how some of them are formulated: to point out to people that they already hold libertarian beliefs.  People like freedom and voluntary exchanges and don't like slavery and theft.  So all we need do is explain and get them to think more clearly about what these terms mean: show them that they are being inconsistent by not liking slavery and advocating government.

One thing I find is that you can't "start in the middle," so to speak. Trying to have an argument about health care or financial markets with your typical statist, especially the economically ignorant, is simply futile. You need to start at the beginning because most people really have no grasp of why freedom, markets, and property rights are a good thing or how they manage to work so well. This makes things difficult because basic economics can't be taught in ten minutes, so I'm not really sure how you persuade people who aren't at least somewhat interested in economics.

I understand.  But, for me at least, ethical arguments were needed to excite passion for liberty.  Motivation to learn economics came from asking: is there another way, an ethical way, of organizing society?  How would things work without central control?  This is why many of my approaches are appeals to ethics.  So if someone supports government healthcare, accuse them of advocating government aggression against innocents.  This spices up the conversation and you have the moral high ground.  Next comes: how will poor people afford health care with government?  Well... cue simple explanation of why free markets are economically better than monopolies, and mention that this applies to law, security, roads and money as well as healthcare.  I think that can be explained to someone in a few minutes.  If they don't get it, at least you've made them aware of their ethical inconsistency.  Maybe it will play on their mind enough so that they remember it, and maybe even inspire them to go away and find out more about this free market thingy and see if it really could provide better healthcare than government does, just like that crazy anarchist dude claimed.

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"Think about how many US history classes that web page has to compete against."

Then why did you even ask the question? Of course theres going to be websites that say different things, everyone has their own opinion. Its up to you to read all the different material and come up with your own conclusions.

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Tom Woods and Doug Casey discuss the utopia of limited government here.

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Coase replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 7:37 PM

I like the idea of pointing out that the government is a monopoly, but I fear that most people would find your accusation of government provided health care as aggression to be absurd. It's health care for crying out loud. How can it be violent? Or they might argue that it's OK to be violent in certain situations--don't we accept violence in the case of self-defence? Maybe we need government provided health care to defend us from the aggression of corporations who would kill people with their nast profit-motivated health care.

See how many conversations you're suddenly having at once? That's why starting in the middle seems so troublesome. I haven't figured out a way to do it effectively.

Capitalist_Pig:

My point was that a simple webpage like that will persuade virtually no one. If they see that and think that's the best you've got they'll dismiss you.

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"Maybe we need government provided health care to defend us from the aggression of corporations who would kill people with their nast profit-motivated health care."

It would only take one or two strange deaths for people to realize "Hey maybe I shouldn't go to this hospital. I'll just go to another hospital where they don't kill their patients."  Up and coming entrepreneurs will also see this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Entrepreneur : "If I don't kill my patients, not only will they come back but I can also take patients away from hospitals that DO kill their patients, ."

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Coase:
Capitalist_Pig:

My point was that a simple webpage like that will persuade virtually no one. If they see that and think that's the best you've got they'll dismiss you.

It is not possible to persuade anyone who is not open to persuasion period.  If you want to win people to your flag, educate them about economics, and avoid moralizing.  And you can only educate people about economics, by relating the concepts to their everyday lives, such that they can begin to grasp and apply ideas like marginal utility and praxeology to their decision making processes.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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"so I'm not really sure how you persuade people who aren't at least somewhat interested in economics."

Just use examples that they are familiar with. For example, if your in a bar drinking with your friends, bring up the new smoking laws about every state is enforcing and how there a violation of property rights.

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Coase replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 7:57 PM

But consumers aren't well-informed enough. Or they're too irrational. Hey, remeber the snake oil salesmen? Or hospitals are too focused on short-term profit even if killing patients will eventually catch up with them. Or there's not enough competition because of barriers to entry. And they're probably not too interested in consumers coming back because people don't go to the hospital regularly like they go to the grocery store. That's what you market fundamentalists forget--the health care market is very different from the market for bread.

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Coase: getting people asking questions is a good thing.  Just rebut the objections and clarify the misunderstandings one at a time.  If you aren't able to rebut them straight away, go away and find or think of a good rebuttal for next time you're faced with that objection.  It takes practice, boldness and patience, but it is worth it.  If you ignore ethics - and ethics is relevant to any discussion about government, including health care - you are basically making an admission that whatever system has best consequences should be the one we choose.  And, for me, that would be missing the point, since my biggest reason for opposing government health care is that it requires theft.

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Coase replied on Fri, Jun 25 2010 8:30 PM

I agree that ethics is vital to the argument for liberty, but I can't help but imagine that people's instinctive reaction to an ethical argument is to point out the practical problems with the ethics of freedom, especially since it logically leads to anarchy. Of course it will be hard to persuade anyone using any kind of argument, but...well, to me at least it was the economics that did it, and indeed had ethics been the start for me I probably would not be posting here, so I assume other people are the same way.

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trulib:
If you ignore ethics - and ethics is relevant to any discussion about government, including health care - you are basically making an admission that whatever system has best consequences should be the one we choose.

Exactly.  Yes, this is why ethics (and moralizing) can be counterproductive.  You're not making an argument based on reason, you're making an argument based on emotion.  You're not leaving the person who meets you more intellectually capable of withstanding challenges to their position.  You are only equipping them to make the guilt arguments (gun in the room, etc) which can ultimately be turned against them, since the argument is not based on reason.

I know this is tough for people to grasp because I struggled with it, but the gun in the room argument doesn't work as well as equipping people to use reason to see why property rights and freedom are the best outcomes if their goals are prosperity, happiness and peace.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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I agree that ethics is vital to the argument for liberty, but I can't help but imagine that people's instinctive reaction to an ethical argument is to point out the practical problems with the ethics of freedom, especially since it logically leads to anarchy. Of course it will be hard to persuade anyone using any kind of argument, but...well, to me at least it was the economics that did it, and indeed had ethics been the start for me I probably would not be posting here, so I assume other people are the same way.

Agreed. The "gun in the room"/government is immoral argument can be persuasive, but is largely ineffective. The moment you gain an inch in the debate, your opponent will likely turn to a utilitarian defense and say, "Even if taxation is theft, a world without the state would be highly inequitable and chaotic. A little theft is justified if it saves us from such a morally repugnant system." Now you have to start arguing the efficacy of the market, and even if you do an admirable job there, your opponent will probably be unreceptive. If the market is so superior, why did you feel it necessary to argue that the state does bad things?

So start by arguing the efficacy of the market. You don't get lost in the morass of morality. And if they do appeal to morality, you should have yourself covered, unless the person has completely hostile values. In those rare cases, there's not much you can do, no matter your argumentative tactics. Move on to better targets.

"People kill each other for prophetic certainties, hardly for falsifiable hypotheses." - Peter Berger
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If you're looking for an easy way while arguing with someone, you can ask them the simple question:

Do you think people are inherently good?

If they say 'yes', then ask why they don't want everyone to be free. If people are good, they will help those in need with charity and won't succomb to being part of a machine without emotion. In socialism, everyone is the government's producer - nothing more and nothing less.

If they say 'no', then ask why you would want a bad person in charge of everyone else. If people are bad, then the bad person on top will take all for himself/herself and leave nothing for the underlings.

That's the simplest way I've seen. The less the government tries to take your money away, the more freely you'd be willing to give it away to help those who have actually fallen on tough times.

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." - H.L. Mencken.

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Clayton replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 4:04 AM

I think 2,5,7 and 10 are integrally related and, together, make the most powerful case against the modern system of two-tier law.

The foundational idea in human morality is the Golden Rule. It is culturally universal which means that it is actually rooted in our biology. The Golden Rule is so basic that even very small children can understand it ("You shouldn't hit him, would you like it if he hit you?"). The State is the upending of the Golden Rule. People are naturally outraged by violations of the Golden Rule, that is, by blatant hypocrisy. I think that the statists are fighting gravity... the natural order is natural. The State is unnatural.

Clayton -

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Clayton replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 4:21 AM

Those who dismiss moral arguments as "emotionalism" are gravely mistaken. Human moral sentiments are rooted in our biology and social evolution, they are not arbitrary feelings. I'm currently working through these ideas myself but the easiest way to illustrate it is to imagine that morality boils down the problem of precisely defining the words "good" and "bad." While we all understand that opinions on what is good or bad differ from one person to the next, and while goodness and badness are ultimately rooted in subjective valuation, the meanings of the words "good" and "bad" are no more arbitrary than the meaning of the word car. While you are free to use the word "car" any way you like, if you use it in a way which is not part of customary usage, no one will know what you are talking about, that is, you will be speaking gibberish. Similarly, while you are free to evaluate morality any way you please, if you use "good" and "bad" in a way which is not part of customary usage, no one will know what you are talking about. The meanings of words emerge from customary usage. No one individual - even the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary - has the power to change the meaning of a word. So, for example, raping a child is not good, no matter whether you are a moral nihilist or not, simply because that is not how people use the word "good." You might be a sociopathic moral nihilist who happens to find pleasure in the thought of child rape but your moral dysfunction has nothing to do with what is good or bad.

Challenging the moral status of the State because it grossly violates ordinary human moral sentiment is the most powerful argument against the State, IMO.

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scineram replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 5:11 AM

1,3,5,6 do not really work. The rest you can inded argue.

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So, for example, raping a child is not good, no matter whether you are a moral nihilist or not, simply because that is not how people use the word "good."

There's a mistake in there somewhere, Clayton. Dictionary.com defines good as "morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious".

Now if someone starts a new religion and preaches that raping a child is morally excellent, virtuous, righteous and pious, then sums it up and says "raping a child is good", he is using the word good correctly. He is using it to mean morally excellent, etc., which is the CORRECT AND UNIVERSAL usage of the word good. In other words, he, like everybody else, is using the word good as a shorthand for morally excellent etc.

Everybody else may disagree and say "No, it is not good to rape children." But they are not using a different dictionary. They are using a different value system.
 

"How people use the word" is the vague phrase that caused this confusion.
 

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Merlin replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 7:21 AM

No. 3 and 4 will probably account for more than half of ‘converts’ one will ever make.

The Regression theorem is a memetic equivalent of the Theory of Evolution. To say that the former precludes the free emergence of fiat currencies makes no more sense that to hold that the latter precludes the natural emergence of multicellular organisms.
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Well lots of opinions here. Different approaches work for and on different people.

I agree that ethics is vital to the argument for liberty, but I can't help but imagine that people's instinctive reaction to an ethical argument is to point out the practical problems with the ethics of freedom, especially since it logically leads to anarchy. Of course it will be hard to persuade anyone using any kind of argument, but...well, to me at least it was the economics that did it, and indeed had ethics been the start for me I probably would not be posting here, so I assume other people are the same way.

That is interesting, because for me it is the opposite. I started taking an interest in all this because I got angry about the bailouts, the falseness of politics, growing police state measures, wars, conspiracies, etc.  I was open to hearing a new perspective, and then along came Ron Paul.  It was his passion for liberty that brought me here.  Then I spent about 6 months asking questions of the form how will X work without government? I was delighted to find out, by learning economics, that prosperity comes as an added bonus of liberty.

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The "gun in the room"/government is immoral argument can be persuasive, but is largely ineffective. The moment you gain an inch in the debate, your opponent will likely turn to a utilitarian defense and say, "Even if taxation is theft, a world without the state would be highly inequitable and chaotic.

Michael, I would say that is a great place to start a debate from: the moral high ground.  They have understood that they are advocating an immoral system, and I am advocating a moral system.  So they know they need a good reason for saying this, so they resort to "the state is necessary to prevent chaos."  And then you start the economics debate to show that anarchy isn't chaos, it isn't so bad at all, in fact it's less chaotic than government, because it is guided by the invisible hand rather than the hands of politicians.  You bodyslam their reason for advocating their immoral system with economic arguments.  The idea is that they walk away thinking, yes, the state is immoral, I wonder if there really is another way.

If you're looking for an easy way while arguing with someone, you can ask them the simple question:

Do you think people are inherently good?

Brian, yes, good one.  I do find many statists have this inconsistency where they say freedom won't work because people are too evil and at the same time they say democracy stops evil people getting into power, and only basically good people can win elections.  Reading Why The Worst Get On Top (Hayek) made me see the inconsistency in myself.

Challenging the moral status of the State because it grossly violates ordinary human moral sentiment is the most powerful argument against the State, IMO.

Clayton, I agree.

No. 3 and 4 will probably account for more than half of ‘converts’ one will ever make.

Merlin, yes, I agree they are powerful.  In my experience they work well on intellectual, politically-opinionated types who have no knowledge or interest in economics.  They have the advantage of sounding very practical and realistic.

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Sieben replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 4:43 PM

I noticed that arguments from statism don't come from the goodness of a monopolist protection agency, but from a fetish for central-ness. See my thread about it here.

In short, you can get them to admit that statism doesn't really solve any problems, because what if there were a thousand governments in Texas, well they wouldn't be able to do anything. So they just want everything to be connected and coordinated, which really obviously opens the door for the market. People have this false dichotomy in their heads between "government" and "doing nothing". We can stress that the free market isn't nothing... acting through the price system etc etc

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Conza88 replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 8:26 PM

Those who say only the economic angle works, or only the ethical one... both fail remarkably.

These folks tend to take their own personal preference or the general trend they followed of coming to the philosophy of liberty and apply it to the rest of humanity.

No. Both approaches work, it just depends on the person. As such the message to be most effective should be tailored to that individual.

The reason Ron Paul is so effective is because he uses both, consistently. Both the moral and economic arguments. He is also humble, principled and folks can trust him.

That is the personal side that typically stands out for folks who respect that. That opens the door for further learning - the acknowledgment that you might not know something, or you may be wrong in your current beliefs.

Ron Paul is for self-government when compared to the Constitution. He's an anarcho-capitalist. Proof.
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Wibee replied on Sat, Jun 26 2010 8:50 PM

With arguements I see many examples of libertarians get too focused on an issue, so focused that they loose the bigger picture.  To average people, libertarians sound like they advocate unsafe products and society.  Even I get that impression when listening to some people.  Some Libertarians, mostly vocal ones,  fail to separate the government from the regulations.  I would totally want certain regulations in my everyday life.  I would buy a product that has been independatly tested to me standards.  I would drive on the road that the owner was actively trying to make safe.

I would start off every arguement with the unethical-ness of the state and compulsive government.  That regulations should be left to the private markets.

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"Those who dismiss moral arguments as "emotionalism" are gravely mistaken. Human moral sentiments are rooted in..."

Sentiment is synonymous with emotion, so I don't know how you could claim that moral sentiments are anything other than emotions, no matter what they're rooted in.

"the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of society, which require mutual abstinence from property" -David Hume
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