Stick it to the (straw) man!
April 12, 2013 | Tags: philosophy
Everybody does it. Conservatives do it when they defend the republic from baby-killing, tree-hugging, terrorist-loving satanists. Liberals do it when they take arms against gun-totting, racist rednecks who hate women, animals and the environment.
Everybody loves attacking a straw man, a phony caricature that embodies everything you want to believe your adversary stands for. And we, as libertarians, should know a thing or three about it as we’ve often been portrayed as selfish, childish, Ayn-Rand-reading nerds who’ve never had a girlfriend (thanks, Bill Maher!).
But it makes a strange kind of sense that the statist would rely as heavily as they do on straw men. It also makes sense that, as libertarians, we should avoid battling them.
Statists are not, by their very nature, sinister people. They are flawed, complex, mostly well-intentioned, sometimes brilliant, sometimes bone-headed individuals who have inherited a world where government is universally understood as the way to get things done. In the statist world than means winning electoral battles.
And if winning electoral battles (not philosophical battles) is what matters most, it makes perfect sense that the combatants would want those battles to be as easily won as possible.
Enter the straw man, the perfect opponent for someone who doesn’t like to lose. The skilled political pugilist knows how to pad their record with bouts against their ilk. Indeed the path to political success is often paved with straw.
But this is a game that libertarians can’t win. We are not going to win electoral battles. So we have to content ourselves with philosophical victories. And those don’t come against straw men. They come against real people with real ideas.
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