I’m sympathetic to much of what libertarians have to say on economic matters. I think, for the most part, they have it right on regulation and taxes. Both are most likely to be used as levers so that one group can gain an advantage over the other. Like everything else about the state, they are necessary evils that should be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, libertarians have everything about human nature exactly backwards. Humans are not rational actors and we should never want to be. A land run by robots will be a bloodbath.
The thing about libertarians is they suffer from many of the same defects as liberals. Chief among them is their moral preening. There’s no better (worse?) example than Nick Gillespie from Reason Magazine. The ridiculous outfit is excusable as you have to have a gimmick on TV. The smug self-regard is another. I read this and think he must be an awful person to be around or have as a neighbor.
As one of the folks (along with Matt Welch, natch), who started the whole “Libertarian Moment” meme way back in 2008, it’s been interesting to see all the ways in which folks on the right and left get into such a lather at the very notion of expanding freedom and choice in many (though sadly not all) aspects of human activity.
Indeed, the brain freeze can get so intense that it turns occasionally smart people into mental defectives.
No one gets into a lather of expanding freedom and choice. That’s just signaling so the reader knows he is in the presence of the anointed. The fact is, hardly anyone pays much attention to libertarians. The reason is life is not a math problem nor is it an economic problem. Public debate is about what kind of society we wish to have and that means culture.
To wit, Damon Linker’s recent essay in The Week (a great magazine, by the way), which argues that the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism, in particular, the Hayekian principle of “spontaneous order.”
No shit. Linker is being super-cereal here, kids.
Nick is a 50-year old man. There’s simply no reason to write like a teenager. Putting that aside, the observable reality of the Middle East is, in fact, a perfect case against libertarianism. Remove a central authority with the willingness and ability to enforce the rules and you get Lord of the Flies with camels and swarthy guys firing Kalashnikovs. The same is true of Africa and South America. Big chunks of Eurasia too. It turns out that the only people capable of pulling off anything close to libertarianism are Anglo-Saxons.
But, that’s noticing and that leads to the great bogeyman that haunts the dreams of the libertarian weirdo – culture. Africans prefer a form of government that is based on neopatrimonialism. South Americans have always preferred autocratic rule, often by military men. Russians love their czars. Economic systems spring from culture. Culture and genetics dance the dance within the bounds of their geography to make the people we around the world. No words on a sheet of paper will change that natural realty. Libertarians have to reject that and embrace the same universalism of the Rousseau-ist cults. Otherwise, they may as well rejoin the Old Right.