Jeffrey Friedman (political scientist)

American political scientist

Jeffrey Friedman (March 25, 1959December 2, 2022) was a political scientist and editor of Critical Review: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Politics and Society.



“What’s wrong with Libertarianism


Critical Review, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1997)

  • Why, if (as Boaz maintains) the liberty of a human being to own another should be trumped by equal human rights, the liberty to own large amounts of property should not also be trumped by equal human rights?
    • p. 427
  • Empirical research does not, as of yet, seem to have legitimately gotten anyone 100 percent of the way to libertarianism; there remain, at the very least, some public goods and, in principle, the need for economic redistribution. Libertarian philosophy fills the gap between what free-market economists can prove about the undesirable consequences of government intervention and the absolute prohibition of all intervention. Consequentialist and nonconsequentialist arguments for libertarianism may be antithetical in principle, but they are symbiotic in practice.
    • p. 444
  • Libertarian philosophy lowers the logical and evidentiary standards for libertarian social science: if one believes that redistribution and regulation are immoral anyway because they violate self-ownership rights, then it is understandable that one would have a cavalier attitude about proving that redistribution and regulation cause unhappiness or “disorder,” or that they always serve the venal interests of politicians and bureaucrats. The orthodox libertarian schema implies that these consequentialist arguments are superfluous.
    • p. 445
  • Both Rand and Rothbard, overeager to seal the case for expelling the state from the economy that economic arguments alone apparently could not clinch, had to cast themselves as participants in a Manichean struggle against unscrupulous wrongdoers with impure motives. This already betokened a deep complacency about the validity of their own views, such that anyone who disagreed with them must be a deliberate enemy of truth; and it marked the beginning of the anti-intellectualism that continues to disfigure libertarian thought. The virtually unanimous opposition of scholars and intellectuals to a view as self-evidently true as libertarianism seems to be to Rand and Rothbard must, they thought, be a function of the intellectuals’ perversity (rather than of weaknesses of libertarian argument and evidence).
    • p. 452
  • The left has, in practice, been prevented from taking advantage of its own frequent disagreements with public opinion by its historically contingent attachment to democratic politics as the primary means to its ends. This allegiance has forced leftist political and cultural critics to presuppose the possibility of rational democratic politics—if only the corrupting influences of money, commercialization, and corporate control could be excised. Libertarians have the basis for a deeper critique of modern culture: they understand that what corporations sell, consumers want to buy. But, precluded by their own ideology—which effectively celebrates whatever consumers choose as, ipso facto, good—from criticizing consumerism, libertarians end up being as unthinkingly apologetic about mass culture in its commercial manifestations as the left is about mass culture in its political guise.
    • p. 453
  • …A government as large as the modern megastate cannot conceivably be controlled by a well-informed public, since it is literally impossible to be knowledgeable about even a fraction of the many complex matters modern governments are called upon to govern. … The attraction of free markets … is that they have self-correcting features that place far smaller demands on anyone’s knowledge than democracy does. Each person concerns herself with her own life and the system, supposedly, runs itself. Interpreted in this way, the literature on public ignorance could form the basis of the consequentialist argument the postwar free-market economists sought, but never found … against all government economic intervention: for even if it cannot be shown, on economic grounds, that every intervention hurts more than it helps, it might be shown, on political grounds, that by opening the door to helpful interventions, we begin sliding toward the unhelpful ones on a slope slippery with public ignorance.
    • p. 455