John Faithful Hamer recently posted a great aphorism:
Having an answer for everything is the infallible sign of not having an answer for everything.
As is no doubt obvious, Chris, this aphorism is the product of recent dealings with people (three in one day!) with airtight ideological armor. One was an old-school communist I work with (who you know), another was an otherwise sweet Muslim friend who thinks the answers to everything are to be found in the Qur’an, and the last was a brilliant but intransigent libertarian.
I’ve always tried to convince my libertarian compatriots away from trying to do what John just talked about: that is, arguing that libertarianism solves everything. Many libertarians—especially market-fundamentalist types—believe that their libertarian world will also maximize utility. (And here, you can fill in whatever you like for “utility”.) On virtually any issue, they will have a ready response detailing why and how a libertarian world—fitted, of course, with laissez-faire capitalism—will be the best at solving it.
It won’t. At some point, you just have to bite the bullet.
I remember being praised for my honesty by a gracious non-libertarian professor a while back for having admitting this. I said: “Look, sometimes a libertarian world won’t have as much x, or be able to address problem y as well as we would like. Indeed, there will always be problems that might be better solved through a central state apparatus (government intervention). But that’s the cost of respecting individual rights.”
What libertarians need to focus on is that last part. Sure, libertarians, it might feel like you’re “losing the debate” when you can’t convince the other side that a libertarian world will completely solve the issues with which they are concerned. But remind them: “What, then, is your solution that doesn’t violate people’s rights? Isn’t that a consideration too? What solution do you have for achieving your goals that doesn’t involve coercing or conscripting people into projects against their will or consent?”
If they can give you an answer that apparently solves every social problem without any apparent trade-offs, then you should be suspicious, for it looks like we’re back at square one. Having an answer for everything is the infallible sign of not having an answer for everything.