Column on Being Dismissed

On Being Dismissed
Tibor R. Machan
Those who occupy seats of power, whether intellectual or political, can
deal with challengers in a variety of ways. Ignoring them is popular—it
saves one the trouble of having to deal with the question of whether one’s
favored position is morally justified, well founded, intellectually
defensible. Just don’t bother and hope the annoying pests will vanish.
Dismissing them as inconsequential is nearly the same ploy but here it is
evident that those in power are a bit worried because they want to give
the impression that their views while being given some voice do not really
matter and aren’t worth investigating. Then there is a more decent
approach of actually taking up the challengers’ ideas and arguing against
them. But this runs the risk of making those ideas seem worthy of
discussion, maybe even palatable.
Over the years that I have championed the fully free society—no
exceptions, no compromises within the legal framework of the system—I have
experienced all these treatments both personally and as a member of the
small group of defenders of classical liberalism or libertarianism. For
the first part of the several decades involved most intellectuals at the
colleges and universities with which I was connected tended to ridicule my
views and those of my fellow travelers. I recall how at my undergraduate
institution, where I began to go on record with these ideas (in the
student and the local newspaper), I was mostly ridiculed by both
classmates and some professors, although there are a few who did show some
interest and even respect. Then at the graduate schools I attended the
fierceness of the rebuke got more intense even though my skill in
defending my ideas also improved, which sometimes showed up in my winning
over a few adversaries.
Once I managed to go through all the hoops to obtain my degree and even
found decent jobs in my discipline, the situation changed once again—many
critics began to use the one-upmanship method, while some actually engaged
in proper debate. But I found that most of my adversaries preferred star
gazing, paying attention only to prominent advocates at the prestigious
institutions. Still, I kept holding up my side of the discussion and got
published in decent, sometimes even outstanding, journals and that opened
some doors to publish books, get included in various readers on ethics and
political philosophy. Because in the meanwhile a few professors at very
prominent institutions came out with views somewhat similar to mine,
defending libertarianism in their own ways, it became a bit more difficult
for detractors to simply ridicule or even dismiss my libertarian ideas.
In the general culture, though—outside the academy—libertarianism made
some but not very many inroads. By now the view is pretty well known and
at times even treated as a legitimate contending alternative answer to how
society ought to be organized. Yet there are quite a few among the big
players, folks who contribute to major publications, who deploy the more
unsavory methods I mentioned above.
For example, in a recent article for the journal World Affairs, Max Boot,
who is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security
Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations and a policy adviser to the
John McCain presidential campaign, proclaims without seeing any need for
argument, that “Aside…from a few extreme libertarians, few conservatives
would contend that the kind of limited protections envisioned by Teddy
Roosevelt—and ultimately brought into being by his cousin, Franklin—were
incompatible with free enterprise or personal liberty.”
So, the New Deal is supposed to be acceptable to other than such
extremists as libertarians, argues an advisor to Senator John McCain Those
who would challenge this view need not be answered! They don’t even
deserve a few points countering their skepticism, their conviction, for
instance, that the New Deal gave rise to just the sort of irresponsible
statism that the country is paying for right now, with financial meltdowns
and the saddling of today’s and tomorrow’s taxpayers with inordinate
debts. These so called “ultimate safeguards of the capitalist system,” as
Boot calls New Deal policies, were just fine, never mind how they did
violence of individual liberty and to political prudence.
Ah, but scoring points with such verbal acrobatics seems to be the way to
promote a failed policy of welfare statism. One can only wish that in time
the ruse will be fully detected and sounder policies, more in line with
the American Founders’ ideas of limited government, reasserted. In the
meanwhile libertarians must simply push on, not allow such disrespectful,
highhanded treatment to deter them.

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