Another Day, Another Panic About 'Paranoid Libertarians'


At Slate, University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner adds his voice to the growing chorus of disapproval directed at so-called "paranoid libertarians," the group who allegedly "distrusts the government to an unreasonable extent." According to Posner, paranoid libertarians pose a genuine risk to the social order, since their incessant harping on government misdeeds threatens to undermine the functioning of the American state. "If people trust the government, they may accept its assurances that flying or nuclear power is safe. They may absorb the messages of its educational programs. If they don't trust the government, then no go," Posner writes.

We've seen this claim before. And once again, the response is that there's nothing dangerous or unusual about what Posner or his predecessors are lamenting. In fact, bedrock American jurisprudence requires our courts to do precisely what is described above. Criminal suspects, for example, are presumed to be innocent, meaning that cops and prosecutors are not taken at their word and are instead required to shoulder the burden of proof. By the same token, regulations that touch on free speech or religion are presumed to be unconstitutional, thus forcing lawmakers to provide a compelling justification for their actions that can survive strict scrutiny by the courts. We don't even trust Congress to be alone in the same room with the First Amendment.

So either "paranoid libertarianism" is a meaningless term or America is already a nation of paranoid libertarians. Either way, there's nothing to freak out about.