Why are antivaccinationists so at home with Libertarianism?


Everyone’s blogging about all the studies showing (as if it needed to be shown yet again) that vitamin supplementation is not necessary for most people, nor does it decrease the risk of heart disease or cancer, and I can’t, at least not yet. Why not? Because my friggin’ university doesn’t subscribe to the Annals of Internal Medicine! I know! Can you believe it? And, you, my regular readers, know that I never blog a study (or three studies) without having the actual studies in front of me. Abstracts alone, as I’ve shown time and time again, can be deceiving. So, until one of my partners in crime elsewhere sends me copies of the articles, I’m kind of stuck. [ADDENDUM: I got them overnight.]

Fortunately, even though I hate to be left out of this party, even if for a day or two, there’s always plenty more blogging material out there. It’s even appropriate, given how recently I wrote about the politics of the antivaccine movement, and how antivaccine quackery is the quackery that knows little in the way of political boundaries, with both sides being prone to antivaccine ideas. True, the right and the left seem to come to their antivaccine ideas from different directions. For example, lefty antivaccinationists tend to come to their views from crunchy beliefs in an idealized concept of what is “natural” and in “natural healing” combined with a major distrust of big business, in particular big pharma. In contrast, righty antivaccinationists tend to come to it through the idea of “health freedom,” in which anything resembling government coercion is to be resisted and any attempt to regulate medicine is viewed with suspicion. Besides, after experiencing such an awesome lovefest from my readers due to my belated mention of my ninth blogiversary, it’s time for some Insolence again that’s likely to tick off someone at least. Orac just can’t handle such universal niceness for long. This post is likely to fix that for some, while others will pump their fists and shout, “Hell, yes!” Which are you? Let’s find out.

It all started, as it not too infrequently does, when post over at that happy home for wanderingly daft antivaccinationists, the Age of Autism caught my eye a couple of days ago. (Yes, I know it’s a bad idea to expose my neurons to such neuron-apoptosing nonsense as the regular content of AoA, but it is at times a convenient source of blog material and my neurons are hardened from years of regular exposure.) It was by a contributor of whom I had never heard before named Adriana Gamondes, entitled Libertarian Backlash against Reason Magazine’s “Corporatist,” “Pseudolibertarian” Compulsory Vaccine Campaign. In particular, Mrs. Gamondes is touting an article published at a website of which I had never heard before, Police State USA. Actually, I must just not have remembered her, because she’s definitely contributed to AoA before on several occasions. Indeed, her “work,” such as it is, rivals the looniest of the crew at AoA for sheer brain death (of both the writer and the reader, alas). She fits right in, given that according to this post from 2009 she is “the mother of twins who are currently recovering from vaccine-induced GI disorders.”

What’s interesting is this passage from Gamondes:

Age of Autism is a politically agnostic forum but not apolitical. To quote Herman Melville, “There seems no reason why serviceable truth should keep cloistered because not partisan.” There are rare exceptions to unilateral mainstream news compliance with government demands that critical views of vaccines be censored. PSUSA has done an elegant job ignoring the memo and explaining why compulsory medicine cannot be legitimately argued from a liberty position.

Except that I would argue that AoA is not exactly politically agnostic. After all, several of its members are prominent in the Canary Party, an antivaccine organization that advocates against vaccines, to the point of buying off politicians and lobbying. Fortunately, it has not had a lot of success thus far, but it keeps trying. It also has forged ties with at least one Tea Party-affiliated group in California. Heck, Mike Adams even endorsed them. In other words, AoA tends to lean right, towards the Libertarian end of the spectrum, and Gamondes’ likes rhetoric that could have been written by Mikey himself.

But first, let’s take a look at what set Police State USA off. It’s an article from a couple of weeks ago by Ronald Bailey over at Reason Magazine entitled Refusing Vaccination Puts Others At Risk: A pragmatic argument for coercive vaccination. Now, believe it or not, I actually read Reason. I used to read it more regularly, but then my politics drifted away from that direction, to the point where reading that magazine would actually annoy me. However, this particular article by Bailey actually made sense. Basically, he claims that Libertarianism is not a justification for putting others at risk:

There would be no argument against allowing people to refuse vaccination if they and their families would suffer alone the consequences of their foolhardiness. It would be their right to forego misery-reducing and life-preserving treatments. But that is not the case in the real world.

Correct, and that’s what those of us who promote vaccination have been saying all along. Indeed, we’ve been pointing out that antivaccinationists endanger everyone because they promote the degradation of herd immunity. Bailey agrees, and he dutifully discusses the Project Tycho, which, as I pointed out, shows how well vaccines have worked over the last century. He also debunks some common antivaccine talking points, such as the highly intellectually dishonest trope that “vaccines didn’t save us,” while listing how much children owe to vaccines, including the newer ones that antivaccinationists like to dump on, such as the rotavirus vaccine and the chickenpox vaccine. Based on herd immunity, Bailey asserts (and I agree):

People who refuse vaccination for themselves and their children are free-riding off herd immunity. Anti-vaccination folks are taking advantage of the fact that most people around them have chosen the minimal risk of vaccination, thus acting as a firewall protecting them from disease. But if enough refuse, the firewall comes down and other people get hurt.

Oliver Wendell Holmes articulated a good libertarian principle when he said, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” Holmes’ observation is particularly salient in the case of whooping cough shots.


To borrow Holmes’ metaphor, people who refuse vaccination are asserting that they have a right to “swing” their microbes at other people. There is no principled libertarian case for their free-riding refusal to take responsibility for their own microbes.

I’d agree that there’s no “principled Libertarian case,” but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a Libertarian case. It boils down to, basically, “Screw you. I don’t care if my decision affects others.” Come to think of it, a whole lot of Libertarianism boils down to this in actual practice, the highfalutin rhetoric of the more practical Libertarians like Bailey notwithstanding. Don’t believe me? Take a look at how Police State USA puts it. First, it equates the ability to refuse vaccinations with free markets and any sort of mandated vaccination as being anathema to a free market. This is very critical to understanding this sort of thinking. Libertarianism appears to worship the free market above all. Consequently, all a Libertarian like those at PSUSA has to do to justify anything is to try to link it to the free market somehow and link what it dislikes to crushing the free market. Why? Because to this brand of Libertarianism the free market is a Good That Shall Not Be Questioned. Ever. Under any circumstances.

The other Good That Shall Never Be Questioned is utter unfettered individual rights without consideration for others. Indeed, PSUSA complains about any form of collectivism, anything that is instituted for the greatest good for the greatest number of people, specifically objecting to the use of the term “herd immunity,” likening it to cattle. I’m only impressed that this anonymous writer refrained from using the word “sheeple.” That would have been the perfect topper to this little screed. As it is, I’ll have to amuse myself with passages like this:

The only thing more full of holes than Bailey’s doctrine is his ridiculous argument against people having “a right to swing their microbes at other people.” His implication is that the spread of germs is an initiation of force from one person against others, therefore justifying state intervention to mitigate that initiation of force. This cheapens the definition of force to an utterly ubiquitous level. A single person picks up and loses an incalculable number of microorganisms per day. This is done invisibly, without a person’s knowledge, whether he is healthy or sick, without malice, without intent, and without the ability to stop it (even if you try). No one can know how many billions of microorganisms were exchanged in a given day, nor who will be susceptible to them. No one can prove beyond reasonable doubt which person dropped which microorganism.

The stupid, it doth burn. Of course, we all carry microbes and exchange them with each other every day. However, there’s a difference between just microbes and microbes that cause serious diseases that can be vaccinated against. If you can prevent endangering others with microbes that you carry or prevent your children from endangering other children by taking a simple precaution that is incredibly safe for you and your child, then why wouldn’t that be an assault?

Of course, Reason readers tend to think along the same way that Police State USA thinks, namely, “Screw you! I don’t care if what I do hurts you.” Just take a look at the Facebook post for Bailey’s article. It’s peppered with comments like:

Explain how not getting a vaccination yourself puts someone else at risk. If you get sick and they are vaccinated then they won’t get sick because they a vaccinated against it right? Oh, vaccinations don’t actually protect against getting sick?!? Then why do we get them.

The stupid, it burns. And I do mean you, Parrish Miller, whoever you are.


Herd Immunity is more Bullshit from Big Pharma with NO logic behind it!


How about “I DON’T WANT TO!”? That’s about as libertarian as it gets. There is no such thing as a positive obligation in libertarian philosophy and that includes an obligation to be vaccinated.

Which is as good a reason as any as to why I shucked my Libertarian tendencies. (Well, that, and my increasing realization over the last 15 years that an “unfettered” free market is not a panacea.)

Sadly, Ronald Bailey is fighting a losing battle. On vaccines, he really appears not to be in tune with his fellow Libertarians, who are all too prone to denying science when it inconveniently clashes with their worship of the free market and individual freedom above all. As I’ve said time and time again, the entire “health freedom” movement (a.k.a. the freedom of quacks from having the government interfere with their plying their quackery), of which the antivaccine movement is but a part, is very much at home within the Libertarian movement. Indeed, one can say that it’s as pure an expression of Libertarianism as there is: Don’t regulate quackery, as the free market will take care of it all (you know, much the way it did so effectively before the creation of the FDA and other regulatory agencies, with wandering snake oil salesmen and pharmaceutical companies bringing drugs to market without testing them) and no one can tell me what I can and can’t put into my body (never mind whether it’s based on misinformation and false claims or not). Don’t require me to do anything that will benefit me and my fellow citizens, such as vaccinating. And, above all, don’t discuss the delicate balance between personal liberty and what benefits and harms society. If you do, you’ll get the kind of reaction that Ronald Bailey got. That’s the problem that Libertarians trying to take a reasonable position with respect to medicine run into that they don’t want to admit. Quackery and antivaccine views go together with Libertarianism like show trials and dictatorships. The more scientifically inclined Libertarians know that, and it bothers them. Unfortunately, they are very quickly reminded of it by their fellow Libertarians when they try to make a “principled Libertarian case” for vaccine mandates, as Ronald Bailey was.