How History Will See Libertarians v. Laura Ingraham

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

Conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham said yesterday that libertarians will always be a fringe minority.

It’s a refrain that libertarians have heard hundreds of times.    It’s usually followed by snide remarks about libertarians being utopian and idealistic.

At the same time, libertarians are called right-wingers by liberals, who, by doing so, reveal their appalling ignorance.

What’s the sin of libertarians?  Do they hate dogs and children?  Do they want the poor to live in cardboard boxes?  Do they wear jack boots and black uniforms?


Actually, their mortal sin is that they believe in non-aggression in personal and national affairs, in people owning themselves instead of being owned by the state, in being able to keep the fruits of their labor instead of having the fruits expropriated by others, in helping the poor and disadvantaged through voluntary action, and in the full array of civil liberties.

Horrible people, aren’t they?

To see who is really horrible, imagine if Laura Ingraham and other critics had lived in earlier times.

  • If they had lived in Roman times, they would have ridiculed Christians as idealistic for wanting to stop crucifixions and the feeding of humans to lions in the Coliseum as an early form of pet food.
  • If they had lived in medieval times, they would have ridiculed utopians who wanted to end serfdom, burnings at the stake, and the drawing and quartering of people.
  • If they had lived during the Protestant Reformation, they would ridiculed Martin Luther, calling him idealistic for questioning the power of the papacy.
  • If they had lived during the Scottish Enlightenment, they would have ridiculed the idealism of Adam Smith, David Hume, and others.
  • If they had lived during the French Revolution, they would have ridiculed anyone who suggested that the guillotine might not be the best way of resolving political differences.
  • And if they had lived during the American Revolution, they would have ridiculed the Founders for subscribing to classical liberal principles, which are almost identical to today’s libertarian principles.

At every inflection point throughout history in the advancement of humanism and human rights, there were people who were seen as utopians and idealists—as a fringe minority.  But those same people were later vindicated by history and honored for their courage and insight.

Just think how different the United States would have been if libertarianism had been the prevailing political philosophy in 1619.  It would have been illegal to bring slaves to Jamestown that year or to anywhere else in the American colonies in subsequent years.  As a result, there wouldn’t have been four million slaves in the United States by 1860, there wouldn’t have been a half-million deaths in the Civil War, there wouldn’t have been the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow, there wouldn’t have been the terrible social and economic consequences of black welfare, there wouldn’t be thousands of blacks killed by fellow blacks each year in Chicago, and there wouldn’t be Black Lives Matter.

It’s astonishing that so many of today’s conservatives and liberals don’t understand such simple truths and thus want to continue subjugating humans to the state while ridiculing those who want to remove the remaining shackles.

Well, at least libertarians will be treated kindly by history.  A hundred years from now they will be honored for being ahead of the times, and Laura Ingraham and other naysayers on the right and left will be remembered for their lack of vision and enlightenment.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan


  1. Mr. Cantoni’s piece effectively showcases how the “conservative” critics of libertarianism go off the rails. Years ago, Ms. Ingraham spoke clearly and accurately about market economic principles. She also expressed healthy skepticism, even suspicion, about the merits of all manner of government programs and of statism itself. In the last two or three years, I heard her shift to incorrect economic analysis, apparently so that she could jump on the populist bandwagon and ultimately support Mr. Trump. Just today Ms. Ingraham was bemoaning the “trade deficit with China” – when the notion of “trade deficits” has long been debunked by economists.

    Looming larger is the categorical attack on libertarianism, often using Ms. Ingraham’s style of sloganeering, calling the libertarians “a fringe minority.” Mr. Cantoni’s piece deals well with that point, but there is a nugget of understanding here for libertarians to get.

    Libertarianism has been categorized and dismissed as a viable worldview because so many of its advocates have relished trumpeting the most extreme positions. What libertarian has not heard – or personally urged – the ideas that we need to “legalize all drugs” and “sell the roads?” The joy of extremism in the defense of liberty has tragically overshadowed the fundamental points of libertarianism. For that reason, quite frankly, I tend to call myself a “classical liberal,” saying that I hold the views of many of the Founders as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. That position starts conversations on the playing field where we hold the strongholds.

    I salute Dennis Prager, the nationally syndicated talk host and author, whom I have heard since 1983. One of his praiseworthy migrations has been to not dismiss libertarians outright anymore, but to embrace the liberty philosophy, while distinguishing out individual policies where people can have different views. He apparently was educated correctly on liberty. I can only hope libertarians move to consistently proclaim the key elements of the liberty philosophy – the elements that are being forgotten by too many “conservatives” and are entirely foreign to the leftists. The key truths are our strengths.

  2. The ‘snide remarks about libertarians being utopian and idealistic to which Craig referred are not uncommon, and it is completely understandable given the presentation of many libertarians.
    Libertarianism is not easy to identify, even from within the party or the movement, whatever you choose to call it. The single unifying principle is claimed to be the non-agression principle. Claiming the non-agression principle and living by it – or even demonstrating it are two different things. For one thing, and this may not be clear to outsiders attempting to understand libertarianism or libertarians, but should be clear to practitioners, claiming political power contradicts the principle. Therefor, running for elective office would be out of the question. Many libertarians agree with this and many don’t. That very thing presents a severe difficulty for others to know what the libertarians are. Are they interested in power, or are they entirely ‘non-aggressive’?
    Self-ownership or the absence of a (coercive) state is understandable to many people as the absence of protection and law. And, as with a borderless state, a lawless state and defenseless state is considered dangerous. This is undesirable to most people. Many want to be free to do as they will, but want others controlled for their safety or benefit.
    The condition of having some people under control for the benefit of others is exactly what libertarians (or those I know who claim to be libertarians) do not want.
    That what people consider horrible is people who say openly that they want no government, no police, no armed forces, no welfare, no regulation, private roads and even private courts and systems of justice is not only understandable, but very rational.
    That Laura Ingraham is not much of a political (or any kind) of philosopher is no secret, except possibly to her. It is futile to argue with her. She is an entertainer, not a thinker.
    Proof of success in a libertarian society would be a better argument. There may be examples such as ‘Small is Possible’ but that is real life, not political talk.
    Well, that’s my humble opinion.