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October 15, 2007

Libertarians are OK, But Their ‘World’s Smallest Political Quiz’ is Deceptive


I like libertarians. I didn’t used to, but I do now. In fact, foreign policy and a couple of moral issues aside, I might even call myself one. Libertarianism answers most economic and often social questions in a straightforward, logical and sustainable manner. It puts the reasoning of liberalism and big government conservatism to shame.


That said, some of the people behind libertarian activism make it really, really hard for anyone to appreciate the movement.


Take the libertarians who have taken it upon themselves to convert all other Americans at any cost, because they are convinced that countless Americans are really libertarian, but just don’t realize it yet. These activists believe, granted not unreasonably, that most Americans think there are only two locations on the political spectrum: Bush and Hillary.


So, these activists have taken it upon themselves to show Americans that there is a third way, and that really, most of them belong to it. Although the goal is a worthy one, the manner in which they have tried to achieve it for many years is, to say the least, deceptive.


Enter the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz,” produced by Advocates for Self-Government. It is a short, 10-question test, designed by libertarians, that is supposed to measure one’s political leanings. It is one of the primary tools used by libertarians to convince non-libertarians that they are in fact, umm, libertarian.


The quiz is used in countless forums, notably on the Web, where its proponents can prey on impatient online users who take the quiz in brief minutes, and on college campuses, where college libertarians manage to convince their classmates that their stance on all of the world’s complex political problems can be summed up in 10 simple questions.


The fact of the matter is, this quiz is very widely used, broadly accepted as legitimate and generally unquestioned. And it is about time that someone shed the light on what should more appropriately be labeled the World’s Most Deceptive Political Quiz.


The test is basically composed of 10 questions, five on economic issues and five on personal issues. The economic questions do a passable job of describing economic issues – corporate welfare, social welfare, social security, free trade, taxes/spending – that separate the liberal stance (economic left) from the libertarian/fiscally conservative stance (economic right).


The problem, however, arises with the questions on personal issues, which are meant to separate libertarianism from conservatism. The following are the five statements in the quiz – if you agree with them, you’re libertarian, and if you don’t, you’re a conservative (according to the quiz designers):


“Government should not censor speech, press, media, or Internet.” Apparently, conservatives would believe that such censorship is good. No mention is made about what kind of censorship is being referenced here (i.e. protecting children from pornography).


“Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft.” Do most conservatives really believe that there should be a draft in peacetime? No. Do most libertarians really believe there should have been no draft after the attack on Pearl Harbor? No. Either way you interpret this statement, there is no difference in the position of conservatives and libertarians on it. But the quiz designers say there is.


“There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults.” What if one opposes laws regarding pre-marital sex between adult lovers, but supports laws addressing prostitution? How would one answer that question?


“Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs.” This is the only statement that comes close to fairly differentiating between conservatives and libertarians. But still, are we talking about marijuana, cocaine or ecstasy?


“There should be no National ID card.” Libertarians often defend their quiz by arguing that the point is that it’s short, and hence that it can’t fit all of the important political questions. But come on, since when is the National ID card one of the top five social issues in America? Since when is it one of the top 20? This only demonstrates their insincerity in truly wanting to measure people’s political leanings.


According to Advocates for Self-Government, of the millions of people who have taken the quiz online, there were about five times as many libertarians as there were conservatives. Of course, in reality, that is ludicrous. But considering the structure of the quiz, it is not surprising.


Once again, I like the proponents of libertarianism. I want them to win over liberals and authoritarians. But I want them to do so with less deception and more courtesy. So why not start by rewriting that quiz – I just might help them hand it out.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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