Worthy of Contempt

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Libertarians may not get much respect, but they are getting attention.

In April, I attended a meeting of humanities instructors (those who teach “the great books”). At a plenary session, the president of the organization, a philosopher, gave a ten-minute summary of the philosophical issue of free will. He noted three major approaches to finding out whether people are free to act: the fatalist approach, the deter- minist approach, and the libertarian approach. But as soon as he said “libertarian,” he hastened to explain — apologetically, perhaps — that he didn’t mean “political” libertarian.

My guess is that he’s been giving that speech for years, and only recently had it occurred to him that he needed to make sure that “libertarian” wasn’t misunderstood. Thank you, Ron Paul!

The April 19 issue of The New Yorker had a cartoon show- ing two firemen pulling a hose toward a house on fire. The homeowner is fighting the blaze with buckets of water. When he sees the firemen, he smiles and says cheerfully: “No, thanks — I’m a libertarian.”

Okay, it’s patronizing. The cartoonist thinks that libertarians are goofy, muddle-headed people who don’t know what’s good for them. But I think this attention, too, is an advance. At the very least, The New Yorker spelled the name right, and didn’t capitalize it, either.

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