6 Fallacies of Liberalism

6 Fallacies of Liberalism

The following fallacies that liberals make are both the root and fruit of “unbridled optimism.” False hopes which are grounded in mid-air perhaps are the most dangerous of all societal dangers. These insights were first documented by philosopher Roger Scruton in his book, “The Uses of Pessimism.” Once you understand them, you will see them everywhere.

The Best Case Fallacy

This is also the gambler’s mindset is another liberal fallacy. Gamblers do not believe that they are taking a massive risk, but instead, luck is inevitably on their side. They cannot lose. “Led by their illusions to bask in an unreal sense of safety,” as Scruton puts it, we see a mutated version of this fallacy with the “too big to fail” arguments.

In the gambler’s mind, he is not taking a real risk; he is “simply proceeding towards a predetermined goal with the full cooperation of [his] faculties and [his] God-given luck.” The calculations couldn’t be wrong, and in any case, looking at the worst case scenario doesn’t focus on the real importance; the best case scenario. This was the fallacy of John Maynard Keynes.

This fallacy only recognizes obstacles to us, never constraints upon us. It is likely that the Russian, French, and Chinese revolutions would have avoided bloodshed had they considered not only the best case scenario but also the worst case scenario. Gambler’s luck tends to follow the gambler’s fallacy, every time.

The Born Free Fallacy

This fallacy too has a few variations. This fallacy holds that more laws necessarily means less freedom. The mistake is evident when we point out that a city can have one law regarding nightlife; curfew at 8 o’clock. Anybody caught outside is shot on the spot. Clearly, there is not much freedom in this city. But the law is very simple.

Yet, it if you will allow the citizens to enjoy a nightlife, you’re going to need laws. Parking laws and sound ordinances and public intoxication laws. And presumably, you’re going to have police out and about enforcing these laws, and they too will need regulations. So, an increase in laws can actually come with an increase in freedom.

The idea that laws and institutions are inimical to freedom is the libertarian fallacy. This was the fallacy of John Stuart Mill.

“Institutions, laws, restraints and moral discipline are a part of freedom and not its enemy,” as Scruton avers, “and liberation from such things rapidly brings freedom to an end.” The careful thinking Christian, the conscientious conservative, intuitively understands this.

The Utopian Fallacy

It is part of the appeal of utopia that utopias can never be realized.” Scruton’s counterintuitive statement makes sense in a Romans 1 world. The depraved of mind has been given over to the insanity of attempting to realize the impossible. The utopian fallacy acts as though the ideal is immune to refutation. “The ideal remains forever on the horizon of our experience, unsullied and untried.” Therefore, the utopian ideal serves as an “abstract condemnation of everything around us, and it justifies the believer in taking full control.”

To know a goal is impossible, but to continue trying anyway, is the real definition of insanity.

Karl Popper believes that the singular issue of built-in immunities to refutation are the hallmarks of pseudoscience. It is the hallmark of Utopia’s that they can’t be proven wrong. That is, they can never come to exist, and so they can never come to be critiqued, properly speaking.

Utopias seek to not deal with particular problems, but all problems as such. And when we try to critique the utopian idea, it is always inevitable that we “just don’t understand.” We just need to try a little harder, and we can get the carrot dangling in the air.

The Zero-Sum Fallacy

This is one of the most well-known fallacies within liberalism. Scruton explains that this error does “not begin from injury but from disappointment. [This man] looks around for some contrasting success on which to pin his resentment.” This is normally found in the economic sphere. The idea is that one person’s success is only and always, at the expense of another’s loss.

This is the “rich get richer and poor get poorer” fallacy. The assumption is that the rich get rich by the poor getting poorer. But economists have proven this is unsound.

But “transferable grievances” are always popular; it is easier to blame others. A permament temptation, this is the fallacy of Karl Marx and the neo-Marxists.

The Moving Spirit Fallacy

The liberal fallacy of subsuming all that is happening, all actions and choices, to the spirit of the times. The liberal or libertarian who is guilty here sees “the free actions of living individuals as the necessary consequences,” Scruton points out, “of the times in which they live.”

He contends this is fallacious for three reasons.

  1. It denies human agency.
  2. It assumes the method for understanding the past is the same method needed to understand the present and the future.
  3. It assumes human culture changes the same way scientific progress happens.

The Aggregation Fallacy

The aggregation fallacy is simple. If cheesecake, pizza, and skydiving are good, then we must combine all three! Eating cheesecake flavored pizza while skydiving must be the best.

This fallacy can be understood another way. If some freedom is good, then compounding freedom on top of freedom must necessarily be better. If equality is good, then we must stack equality upon equality to maximize the quality of our equality.

The sad reality is, neither freedom nor equality are unqualified goods. Too much freedom is no more good for us than too much cheesecake. Too much equality is also an evil.

Another way this fallacy shows up is the idea that each culture is good in itself, so if we mix all the cultures together, we must necessarily have a superior product. But though vinegar is good and baking soda is good, it does not mean we should always mix them. Two goods do not always combine to make a better good.

For Further Discussion:

Thomas Sowell on The ‘Diversity’ Fraud


The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.

2018-12-27T13:05:18+00:00By |Conservatism, Liberalism|