Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Necessary Good, or Leaving Lazy Libertarianism

”[When] men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them...there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

For years, I identified myself as a libertarian. I was even a Libertarian for a while. That is to say, I was a registered member of the Libertarian Party for about six months (Here is their platform). I’m not a Libertarian anymore, though, and I’m not really a libertarian either.

In the past, I’ve said that government should function, essentially, as a shell for society, arguing that things from medical research to local parks are a misuse of taxpayer money. I still advocate for limited, constitutional government, but there is a difference between the limits placed on the federal government by the Constitution and the limits placed on government at every level by libertarian ideology. Government, especially at a federal level, has the capacity to be destructive, but I think that there are many things that the government can provide better than anyone else and, for the sake of the civil society and healthy communities, should do so. (Parks, again, are the obvious example.)

At this point, there is a distinct possibility that you are groaning internally, because this may seem like a self-indulgent piece of philosophico-political puffery. For one thing, it is about libertarianism, a notoriously self-indulgent subject. For another, its author used a capital letter to distinguish between libertarianism and Libertarianism--in the first paragraph.

I hope that you’ll read on, however, if you’re interested in why I no longer buy into libertarianism or its ill-conceived, majuscular manifestations.

Libertarianism is an idiosyncratic and relatively new movement (between 40 and 60 years old, depending on where you start). It is based on the ideas of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman (a hero of mine), F.A. Hayek (whom I admire), Leonard Read (author of the brilliant essay “I, Pencil”), Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter and possibly the author of the Little House books), and a few others. Most of the thinkers whose ideas form the backbone of libertarianism were radicals of one stripe of another, and this may explain why it is likely to remain a fringe movement, except when its palatable, realistic ideas can be integrated into the Republican Party platform.