The Problem with Pragmatism

Fascists have been trying to make inroads into libertarian circles. That has lead a lot of libertarians to state that libertarianism is anti-fascist. I’m beginning to think that fascism isn’t the real problem for libertarianism, pragmatism is.

As I touched on yesterday, pragmatism has been leading some libertarians to side with fascists because they’re offering a “lighter” alternative to communists “full” socialism. I’ve also seen a few libertarians passing around this article, which is basically saying that libertarians should support universal basic income because it’s better than the current system of welfare. And, of course, I’ve seen some libertarians passing around this article, which argues that supporting universal healthcare is fiscally responsible.

These are just a few cases where I’ve seen libertarians argue for pragmatism. And they make me understand how Ludwig von Mises felt when he was attending a meeting of classical liberals and called them all a bunch of socialists as he stormed after they started talking about pragmatism:

When I hear libertarians siding with fascists, supporting universal basic income, and supporting universal healthcare I can’t help but call them a bunch of socialists because they are expressing pragmatism, which is a socialist ideology.

The problem with pragmatism is that it always requires compromising principles. While some libertarians might think that compromising their principles, at least if it’s only a little bit, is fine so long as it moves some libertarian ideas ahead, doing so actually forwards the goals of socialists in two ways. First, the compromise means at least some of their agenda was also moved ahead. Second, the compromise means that they were able to get some libertarians to bend on one thing, which gives them the knowledge to get them to bend on other things. The first is obvious, the second is sinister.

Getting people to compromise on their principles requires finding the right button to push. Usually the button is fear. If you can find something that somebody is so afraid of that they’re willing to set aside their principles to make themselves feel safer, you’ve won. In fact, that was the whole point of the Room 101 scene in Nineteen Eighty-Four. If, for example, somebody fears communism so greatly that they’re willing to side with fascists, the communists know that they can manipulate the actions of that person by exploiting that fear.

If you’re willing to compromise your principles then you’re susceptible to manipulation. If you’re susceptible to manipulation then your opponents manipulate you.