Misconceptions #100: A Retrospective and Self-Critique

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Cyrus Durand (American, 1787–1868) Banknote motif: the number 100 against an ornamental lathe work oval resembling woven rope with a border of grain, flowers and berries, ca. 1824–42 American, Engraving and etching; sheet: 1 3/8 x 1 9/16 in. (3.5 x 4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Joseph Veach Noble, 2002 (2002.333.42) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/393971

When I realized that the 100th Misconceptions column was quickly approaching, I felt it would be a great opportunity to celebrate the milestone with a much-needed self-critique. In addition, I hope to highlight what I believe to be some of the better articles, and to add some general retrospective comments.

#1: Misconceptions of Individualism

The first of the series, and one that still holds up well today. However, there is much more to it that I would add since writing it. Individualism, like many -isms, consists of several slightly different strains of thought. Rand’s is much more “atomistic” (a critique common among conservatives), while that of Mises is the least. Mises’s approach is purely methodological, which he defends in his Epistemological Problems of Economics. Dr. Neema Parvini provides a great analysis of individualism in his The Defenders of Liberty.

Chodorov and Nock share a much more motivational strain. In a manner resembling Jordan Peterson, they both highlight that individualism means that each person can improve society by first improving himself.

#4: Misconceptions of Child Labor Laws

This is easily the most research I’ve put into a single article. At minimum, this article can be a useful collection of all of the relevant research I could find. Although I completely stand by it, it could use an additional section on state labor laws, as well as research on if this pattern is the same in other countries, or if the United States is unique. This could one day be a future article in this series, or perhaps somebody else might be interested.

#5, #44: Misconceptions of Equality

The first article of this pair, Equality Misconceptions: A Libertarian Review distinguishes between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, with a bias in favor of the former. Since then, my position has become much more anti-egalitarian. I think a later article, Misconceptions of Natural Equality, deals with this topic much better.

On this issue, I believe a change in framing might be necessary for those against equality of outcome. It is not equality of opportunity that should be supported (because, in any society, people will clearly not have equal opportunity), but rather equality under the law, and nothing more.

#6: Misconceptions of Online Censorship

This article is simply not that well-written. The online censorship issue is a difficult one, and it plays a part in a larger topic on social ostracism. In this article, I state at the beginning and end of the article that censorship of any kind, including social ostracism, is “a major problem,” but also state that social ostracism can sometimes be good or bad. A clear contradiction, and I believe my thinking on the topic at the time of writing was attempting to solve a problem that I hadn’t fully thought through.

#8, #12, #15, #94: Misconceptions of Libertarians

The first, Common Misconceptions of Libertarians, is too vague. To compare two ideologies, with all of their smaller deviations and varying perspectives, requires far more than a few paragraphs. Each comparison deserves a far more thorough and detailed response, which I plan to do in future articles.

The second, Misconceptions of the Libertarian View of Abortion, is the most-viewed Misconceptions article to date (and earned me an critical email for apparently only citing men). It is these types of articles that I hope to do more of: taking a position and explaining the different views within one movement.

The third, More Misconceptions of Libertarians, is an improvement on the first. There are many articles with this kind of format, dealing with specific criticisms of libertarianism. I think these are helpful for libertarians understanding their own worldview, as well as a steelman for criticism.

The fourth, Misconceptions of Paleolibertarianism, is an improvement on the first simply because it is thorough. Rather than comparing all libertarians to all conservatives, socialists, Objectivists, etc., it is a better format to dive into one specific subcategory of libertarianism as the focus of one article. Brian Doherty’s history of modern libertarianism only focuses on a few key people, but fills over 700 pages. There is a benefit to being concise, but only to a certain extent.

#11, #73: Misconceptions of Freedom

One of my obsessions over the last year or so has been nailing down definitions, and separating out various understandings of the same idea. The first attempt at defining freedom was Misconceptions of Freedom. Later, I took a different approach in Misconceptions of Liberty, relying on the definitions of three influential figures to libertarianism. I believe the latter is easier to understand and better written.

#13: Misconceptions of the Climate Change Debate

A personal favorite, similar to my article on abortion, for simply laying out the various positions in a controversial topic. I wish more people would write articles of this format for other topics, to show that there are more than two sides.

#18, #61: Misconceptions of “Homo Economicus”

The problem with this article is that it was essentially rewritten better in a later article, Misconceptions of the Rational Actor.

#30: Misconceptions of the Burden of Proof

This article was written before I had any knowledge of traditionalist viewpoints. Upon rereading it, it is essentially an argument from that perspective, and would have benefited from taking that into account.

#33, #34, #36, #38, #41, #42, #46, #57: Misconceptions of Left vs. Right

There are a few problems with this series. As important as I believe it is to define the political spectrum, it could have been done much better. For one, it is incomplete. The conclusion has yet to be written, and there are many dichotomies yet to be covered.

Second, the series could be described as “thinking out loud.” It would have been much better to write out the entire series from start to finish, and then to go back and revise them before submitting them. Of all of these articles, the fifth on Thomas Sowell’s visions is the best.

#43: Misconceptions of Conservatism

This is, in my view, my worst Misconceptions article. It was published at the beginning of my first deep dive into conservative thought, and was largely driven by my continued frustration with anti-capitalist/anti-liberty conservatives. An article with an assertion about conservative thought should cover far more than Burke, and this article is limited to quotes from him.

I also would not deny an accusation that this article consists of “quote-mining.” I was not as familiar with Burke as I should have been when choosing to write about his thought, and at the moment cannot say either way if I was right or wrong. I have not read enough Burke to confidently say either way.

#52, #59, #64, #67, #86, #96, #97: The School of Salamanca

The School of Salamanca has become one of my favorite topics in the last year. The information used within these articles was taken from about twenty books and over a hundred articles and essays. The articles might have become a bit repetitive, but there are few topics I am more informed on to write about than the School of Salamanca. For that reason, I think these are some of the better articles.

#72: Misconceptions of Specialization

This is an article that, upon rereading, I should have put more time into rewriting and clarifying. The overall point was that there are benefits to being the Renaissance man that knows quite a bit about everything, and there are benefits to hyperspecialization in one specific field. This article was an attempt to reconcile the two, but could have been done much better with more time to think and rewrite.

#76, #80, #86, #91, #96, #97: The Brilliance of…

The purpose of this series was to place lesser-known thinkers in the spotlight, with the hope that they will be better remembered. My goal has always been to become thoroughly acquainted with each person’s work before writing about them. For most of these, I haven’t met my own standard.

For Roger Scruton, I read eight of his books (for how much he produced, this is only a small part of his work) and several of his obituaries. For Leoni, I only read one of his books (but a very important one), and many articles on him.

The scholastics were harder. Only lecture notes of Vitoria’s students survived, published by Cambridge. Except for a few articles from the Acton Institute, that was my only source for him. Barely any of Covarrubias’s work is available in English, so I had to rely on those few translated snippets from books on the history of economic thought. Only one of Mariana’s essays has been translated to English, though a lot of information came from the Instituto Juan de Mariana and their Spanish edition of Del Rey y de la Institutión Real. There are many other figures I wish to cover, but I am limiting myself to only covering them after I have read the vast majority of their available work.

Misconceptions

Writing this column has been incredibly influential in my thinking. I cannot put into words my gratitude to Being Libertarian for allowing me this platform to write. I don’t typically follow current events, which means that I have to look to other things for article topic ideas. And coming up with one every week has been increasingly difficult. And if I’m going to write something that will remain on the internet, available to anyone, it has to be decent. It’s encouraged me to read much more than I normally do, and to not just read, but to truly understand what I’m reading so that I can reference it in an article.

I hope some people have derived some value from these hundred articles. Here’s to many more!

Editor’s Note: The Editorial Board of Being Libertarian extends its heartfelt congratulations and appreciation to Nathan for contributing such an impressive body of work to our website and community. We all look forward to reading much more from this deep and considerate thinker.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]

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