Libertarians: You Can Have Opinions

If you spend any time reading the blogs authored by college-aged libertarian students, you are bound to read articles addressing their love for promiscuity, drug usage, and obscene alternative lifestyles for the sake of being alternative. The common argument these libertarians make is that their choices fall under the category of being “subjective values”; therefore, it is wrong to make any moral judgments condemning their actions.

It seems as if these libertarians, who claim to be adherents to the Austrian School, have never, in fact, read any works of the Austrian economists. Because of this, these libertarians are entirely ignorant of the ideology they claim to espouse. This ignorance manifests itself in to statements such as, “Subjective values mean you cannot judge people for their choices” and “It is anti-liberty to judge people for their choices.” Individuals who claim to be scholars of libertarian thought should at least be well-read on the elementary basics of their own beliefs.

There is a fundamental difference between subjective values and moral relativism. Libertarians have decided to conflate subjective values, in the economic sense, with moral relativism. This confusion stems from a lack of knowledge of the definition of subjective values. In economics, subjective value refers to a theory of value in which an object attains its value through the wants and desires of individuals. When economists claim that, “Everyone has different subjective values”, it is a reference how individuals have different wants, needs, and tastes in respect to goods and services. Moral relativism, on the other hand, is a philosophy which decrees that there is no truth: right and wrong do not exist. Therefore, to a moral relativist, you cannot judge people for their actions, as it is all subjective.

To individuals who have never studied Austrian economic theory, the terms may seem confusing at first. However, for people who liken themselves to be leaders of the liberty movement, with a depth of knowledge about Austrian economics, there is absolutely no excuse to confuse subjective values in economics to moral relativism. There is no reason, therefore, for libertarians to make insane proclamations such as, “You cannot be a libertarian and judge people for their choices” and “Judging an action as right or wrong goes against libertarianism.”

These college-aged libertarians truly believe that telling someone that doing heroin is a bad decision infringes on libertarianism. As well, daring to criticize the polyamorous lifestyle as being morally repugnant prods a response of, “Who are you to judge?” which would make Ayn Rand weep. Time and time again, the college-aged libertarians become outraged when an individual has the audacity to proclaim that there is an objective right and an objective wrong. According to these moral relativists, there is no right or wrong unless you criticize something that they believe is right, thus leading to your beliefs being labeled as “wrong”.

As well as conflating subjective values with moral relativism, the college-aged libertarians confuse being a libertarian with being a libertine. In their world, one must be have an unconditional acceptance of the drug-addled polyamorous lifestyle, with zero moral apprehension. Anything other than the unilateral advocacy of any and all alternative lifestyles is seen as an affront to freedom. To argue that a certain lifestyle is wrong is apparently akin to wanting the government to ban the lifestyle. To have any moral reservations, to believe in right and wrong objectively, and to proudly defend what is good against what is evil, is seen as enough to render an individual “not a libertarian”.

As a demonstration of the ridiculousness of the, “You cannot be a libertarian if you believe in judging people for their ‘different subjective values'” logic, it is important to note that Rothbard, the foremost anarcho-capitalist and Austrian School adherent, produced scathing remarks against the libertine lifestyle that these college-aged libertarians wholeheartedly promote. Under the new mantra of non-judgment being a prerequisite to libertarianism,  Rothbard could not be considered a libertarian. Apparently, his beliefs were entirely “anti-liberty” as they involved a level of critical thinking beyond the childishness of, “We all value different things. Every choice is equal. No judgment.” How horrifically ironic.

7 thoughts on “Libertarians: You Can Have Opinions

  1. A very well-executed refutation of the confusion between the economic definition of value, and the proclamation of value subjectivism in the realm of moral philosophy. The old accusation of “libertinism” has been used by conservatives as a club to pummel libertarians since National Review took note of the movement in the early 1960s, and the folks that Ms. Goldenberg criticizes make it easy for them to get away with it. Of course, rational people must “judge.” Not in an over-broad, Randian sense, in which individuals being taken to task for this or that transgression are placed into box of an all-encompassing label, but in the sense that it is understood that right and wrong can be recognized objectively. Albeit within proper context, and with the understanding that moral judgements on a great many issues will not come easily! Moral relativism is a self-refuting belief-system; a “bridge to nowhere,” and alleged libertarians who proclaim it as an ideal certainly do nothing to advance the cause. Good stuff, Ashley.

  2. John Adams would agree as well. He was not a fan of any specific religion, yet he understood that God had written a moral code in each individual regardless of their faith. Moreover, it is important to note as you and Alan point out that you’re judging the issue, not the person. The person may be guilty under that judgment, but that’s a separate argument. Appreciate your thoughts.

  3. How anyone can claim to agree with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, Objectivism, while simultaneously practicing moral relativism and excoriating those whose judge people as a consequence of their own voluntary actions is truly baffling.

    Consider this excerpt from Part I, Chapter VII of Atlas Shrugged:

    “What is morality?” she asked.
    “Judgement to distinguish right and wrong, vision to see the truth, and courage to act upon it, dedication to that which is good, integrity to stand by the good at any price.”

    That surely does not sound like support for hedonism or an aversion to judging others as a consequence of their own voluntary, immoral choices to me. In fact, in Apollo and Dionysus, Ayn Rand had some pretty harsh words for drug addicts as well. I definitely consider questioning their moral character and classifying their behavior as “obscene and evil” to be judgmental of their behavior. Consider this quote:

    “Is there any doubt that drug addiction is an escape from an unbearable inner state – from a reality that one cannot deal with – from an atrophying mind one can never fully destroy? If Apollonian reason were unnatural to man, and Dionysian intuition brought him closer to nature and truth, the apostles of irrationality would not have to resort to drugs. Happy, self-confident men do not seek to get stoned. Drug addiction is the attempt to obliterate one’s consciousness, the quest for a deliberately-induced insanity. As such, it is so obscene and evil that any doubt about the moral character of its practitioners is itself an obscenity.”

    Ayn Rand also criticized the libertarians of her day for opposing Objectivism for its focus on morality. She called them “monstrous” and “disgusting” for plagiarizing and distorting her views in a manner more vicious than communist publications. Anyone who has any familiarity with Ashley’s blog can attest to the fact that the libertarians of today are no different in this regard. This excerpt from seems to perfectly capture the essence of the many libertines who call themselves libertarians today:

    “Q: Why don’t you approve of libertarians, thousands of whom are loyal readers of your works?
    AR: Because libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people: they plagiarize my ideas when that fits their purpose, and denounce me in a more vicious manner than any communist publication when that fits their purpose. They’re lower than any pragmatists, and what they hold against Objectivism is morality. They want an amoral political program. [FHF 81]”

    This is definitely one of your best pieces to date, Ashley, and I am sure that it will further strike at the nerves of the people Ayn Rand described in the quote above as a “monstrous, disgusting bunch of people.” Their vicious hate only serves to reinforce the premises of this article. Keep up the good fight for liberty!

  4. Pingback: Why Be Libertarian? |

  5. My gosh, sounds quite butthurt unfortunately. On the one hand, you criticize libertarians for sucking up to the left, defending pot and promiscuity, and what have you. On the other, you cry foul when libertarians reject Glen Beck, one of your role models, as one of their own. Which is it? Are our ideas bad or are they similar to yours? Or are you too busy pouncing at them to know?

    I would normally want to be charitable with this piece. That is, assume the claims you make are backed up somewhere. However, this is hard to do. Based on past experience, as well as by the fact that you cite some claims but not more important ones, I’m left to guess that this is mostly conjecture. Is there “a” blog somewhere on the extranet supporting promiscuity and demonstrating love for it? Probably, since that’s cited. Are there vast swaths of libertarians who say “You cannot be a libertarian and judge people for their choices” and “Judging an action as right or wrong goes against libertarianism.” There’s no reference, so probably not. From my own experience, this is rather libelous (not a crime to me, but nice try).

    There are unfortunately a rather zealous bunch that do think the way you caricature us as thinking. As I recall, Julie Eva (formerly Julie Borowski) received quite a bit of hate from libertarians for being socially conservative. But guess what? Such holier-than-thou people exist everywhere for every ideology. Are you telling me that you haven’t denounced people who are quite-close-but-not-quite conservative? Are you telling me that such conservatives do not exist anywhere?

    Fortunately, these libertarians are a minority. Julie Borowski and I disagree on some social issues, but we’re still on speaking terms. In fact, we get along quite well, and the libertarians who work with her at FreedomWorks also get along well with her. It’s an issue that only exists in your fantasy.

    And there’s a clear reason why Borowski is libertarian but not Glenn Beck. Borowski has conservative values, but these are HER values. She has some conservative values, but she is not a conservative. She’s a libertarian. Glenn Beck has some libertarian values, but he is not a libertarian. He is a conservative. If you want government to legislate moralityGovernment plays no role in morality, which is not the same thing as saying that there is only a relative morality (which I always thought was a loaded term:relative to what?). Promiscuity and pot have nothing to do with deregulation and privatization, which is why most of us don’t bother judging people for that. “Not my problem, just keep it away from me” is what most libertarians would say, not your contrived bullshit.

    • You’re the one responding angrily to her column. “Butthurt” has sure taken on an awfully flexible definition.

      Please give me one example of an issue where Glenn Beck would like to legislate his morality.

      Beck apologized for his statist positions some time ago and is now consistently libertarian. But people like you cling to this immutable conviction that he is the enemy because he is a conservative. That’s exactly why columns like this need to be written.

      • Indeed, but not so flexible that butthurt=angry. But I am neither.

        Well, look up what he has to say with regard to atheists, under God, and the “secular fundamentalists” so-called “war on christmas.” but you got hooked on the wrong part of my message. Don’t you think it’s even slightly inconsistent to defend Glenn Beck’s calling himself libertarian AND defending Ann Coulter’s attack on libertarianism, while attacking libertarianism on one’s own? If this blog is trying to teach that conservatism is not the enemy to libertarianism, it has an odd way of doing it.

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