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Libertarian Says It Is Irrational To Seek Support For Education And Science Through Politics

This week, I’ve provided examples of how Libertarian politicians, though they seek the support of liberal voters, promote policies that are in stark opposition to liberal values. Education has turned out to be a particularly weak spot in Libertarian ideology. Libertarian politicians are promoting the idea of eliminating public schools. We don’t need to worry about the consequences, the Libertarians say, because children can sit at home on computers or go to work instead of being at school or join militias before they are replaced by killer robots.

Libertarians’ disdain for education seems to have roots in the Libertarian affection for abstract logical reasoning as a basis for political policy. Libertarians love to tell people who disagree with them that they are being irrational. Libertarian philosophy is the only rational basis for political policy, they tell us.

indiana libertarianIn an example of this prideful rationalism, Andrew Horning, Libertarian candidate for Congress in Indiana’s 8th congressional district, lectures us that, “Politics’ only rational role is to use its inherent violence for the defense of liberties and contracts; and against fraud, real crime, and in general, to oppose aggression or abuse of persons, property, or shared (unownable) resources.”

One of the weaknesses inherent in a political movement that is based upon abstract logical reasoning is that it tends to lead its followers into categorical positions like this one. Horning tells us that rational thinking leads to the inevitable conclusion that politics is good for nothing at all except for protection of liberty and contractual arrangements against aggression, crime and abuse. Every other project in politics, Horning suggests, is irrational.

Once again, education is a weak spot for Libertarians. All we have to do to test the validity of Andrew Horning’s broad claims is to find just one rational purpose for politics other than the one he listed. If we do find one, Horning’s argument falls apart. So, we can ask: Isn’t it rational for people to organize politically in order to establish systems of support for science and education?

We all benefit from a society that is scientifically literate and active, and well-educated in general. We can only reach a limited level of scientific and educational achievement, however, as individuals. For that reason, it makes sense for people to come together, forming political movements to support funding of scientific and educational institutions. Libertarians like Andrew Horning, however, would remove eliminate support for science and education, without any reasonable plan for an alternative.

Libertarians’ repeated political failures largely stem from their inability to come up with reasonable alternatives to political solutions. All they can offer is an abstract political philosophy that fails to deal with the reality of how people actually live. It’s this disembodied nature of Libertarian ideology that makes it so irrational. Logical reasoning only works if it is founded in reliable premises. The Libertarians, having failed to educate themselves broadly, leap to faulty conclusions on the basis of their ignorance.

As they blabber on with ridiculous ideas such as the elimination of public schools, Libertarians unintentionally become living examples of how important politically mustered public support of education is.

5 comments to Libertarian Says It Is Irrational To Seek Support For Education And Science Through Politics

  • “So, we can ask: Isn’t it rational for people to organize politically in order to steal money from others in order to establish systems of support for science and education?”

    “Rational” is not the same thing as “good.”

    Modern “public education” is rational or irrational depending on what its goal is.

    If the purpose of “public education” is, as framed by e.g. Horace Mann, Thomas Dewey, et. al, to crank out flesh and blood robots who obey orders on the assembly line and unquestioningly accept a civic religion that serves the goals of the political class, it’s entirely rational.

    If the purpose of “public education” is to equip children with the toolkit of humanity — reading, writing, arithmetic and critical thinking — such that they can determine their own futures instead of slotting directly and unthinkingly into place as gears in an inhuman political and economic machine, then it’s completely irrational and an abject failure.

    Liberals need to decide which side they’re on — the side of the people or the side of the corporations and their political puppets.

    • hddhdhdhdue

      Thomas, your argument is based on the false premise of an absolute dichotomy that accepts only two possibilities for education.

      Your assertion that using public education to teach people to read is an “abject failure” and “completely irrational” is just plain weird, especially since you don’t offer any evidence to support it.

      If doing good things for people is a goal we have, and if providing education is something we regard as a good thing, then it’s rational to try to educate people, and what we judge as good and what’s rational are associated, but life is not a logic puzzle, Thomas.

  • Bill

    This is where the typical libertarian will opine on how there’s no need for government to fund scientific research, because Adam Smith’s magical severed hand will ensure that the private sector will eagerly pick up the slack, to the immeasurable benefit of us all. Every time I hear that argument I can’t help but note that its proponent is not a scientist and has no idea how scientific research is conceived, funded, and conducted.

    As an undergraduate I was lucky enough to take a chemistry class from F. Sherwood Roland, the Nobel laureate chemist who discovered the ability of certain chemical pollutants (such as Freon and related refrigerants, as well as exhaust chemicals from supersonic aircraft) to destroy ozone. His earliest work was almost successfully suppressed by the chemical and aviation industries, who financially pressured his university to make him abandon that line of research, who hired private investigators to dig up dirt on his private life for blackmail, and who even threatened his life. Yeah, I’m just sure these same captains of industry would have eagerly funded his research with no strings attached, just as the tobacco industry surely would have elucidated the causal link between smoking and lung cancer if only the dang gummint hadn’t stood in its way.

    Ask any scientist in industry about the greatest impediment to industrial science and he’ll probably tell you that it is industry’s single-minded focus on this quarter’s and this year’s ‘numbers’ — profit or loss (I sure would, anyway, after half-a-lifetime in industrial science). If a research project isn’t obviously going to benefit this year’s numbers, then it meets with no interest, and thus no funding. If we left it to Adam Smith to discover the Higgs boson, or Vitamin C, or the structure of DNA, or the laser, or the evidence for modern climate change, or the toxicity of BPAs in modern plastics, or the causative agent of AIDS, or stem cells, or any of a thousand other impactful discoveries, they never would have happened.

    One of the very smartest members of “the greatest generation,” Vannevar Bush, headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) during World War II. As the war ended, he successfully argued that the OSRD’s experience demonstrated the incredible economic and societal value of government investment in scientific research. In his 1945 report to the President, Science, The Endless Frontier, he called for an expansion of government support for science, and pressed for the creation of a National Science Foundation. The rest is history. Today you can’t look around a room without your eyes falling on multiple products that employ technologies whose underpinnings were developed with federal research funding, and which probably wouldn’t exist today but for that early government seed-funding. Most of what’s good about our economy today is the direct result of Bush’s extraordinary vision.

    But hey, some yutz who doesn’t know his *ss from a hole in the ground about science figgers it would be much more efficient if we just sorta let it happen without government ‘interference,’ trusting instead in the corporatist’s version of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Adam Smith’s severed hand. Hey, sure; why not?

  • Oh, boy. Well, as an early Libertarian in public office back in the day, thanks for bring this guy to people’s attention.

    First: Education is a strong point for Libertarians–see the non-partisan http://www.libertarianinternational.org

    IMHO sadly, like many candidates from a very conservative bent trying to re-mold the libertarian-direction USLP, this guy is making stuff up because, I suspect, he really hasn’t studied the subject. He may even be a fringe mole. Usually when the candidate starts going on first about what a fine Christian he is, that’s a dead giveaway. Politics is violence? Punish crimes and ENFORCE contracts? The Constitution is a contract? This even isn’t good common law. Nothing Libertarian there. Not to mention most of his positions, which read like a right-wing crackpot and have nothing to do with Libertarianism.

    Also, both the pro- and anti-Libertarian commenters along with the article author don’t get the Libertarian distinction between common and public services, along with this candidate. They also seem to confuse them with things provided by the government. Especially in this case: There are no US Government schools. There are common-public schools with their own separate boards in general. The Libertarian issues are coercive taxes, coerced monopolies and mandatory attendance. Libertarians also suggest more parental involvement via local boards. Many states are implementing a lot of this Libertarian approach, and if this candidate had done his Libertarian homework he would be discussing it.

    Then again, this candidate is a philosopher king compared to many GOP and Dem candidates, and for all I know folks love this stuff in Indiana…But if he were a serious candidate, he would at least follow the Libertarian candidate standards and have served in appointive public office or have some record of community involvement first. Like any other serious candidate anywhere.

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