"The greater the power the more dangerous the abuse." ~ Edmund Burke
The Violent Libertarian, Part 2
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
In the first part of this train of thought, I focused on my own past personal travails in order to shine a light on what I perceive as an unrealistic and undue degree of self-ascribed perfectionism in libertarian circles. Perhaps as a result, perhaps for other reasons, that essay has to date generated very little comment or controversy. However that, in the time since it has caused considerable reflection in my own mind as to delineating what is quite possibly a broader issue.
There are really two manners in which a basis for any society of individuals can be formed. The first is what we have at present: A system that allows for limited freedom of choice in the sale and purchase of some goods and services (all mostly taxed and regulated, of course), while outlawing some altogether, and monopolizing still others and mandating payment by taxation under threat of force – whether the “purchaser” wants such goods or services or not; whether they want the type provided or not; whether they want the quantity or lack thereof, or not.
The second is an arrangement whereby individuals deal with each other as free actors in a free market – buying, selling, trading, and otherwise interacting without forceful coercion in all areas of life. No one compels the purchase or sale of anything, nor are any such endeavors forcefully hindered. Supply, demand, and mutual voluntary arrangements become the bases for unlimited social experimentation that does not forcibly interfere with the life, liberty, or property of another.
And let’s now, as with my previous essay, repair back to human nature: It is imperfect. People of all kinds – including libertarians -- make mistakes. They lose their tempers. They are given over to passions and emotions all too often before they are willing to look at reason. They can be arrogant, abrasive, surly, and a hundred other kinds of undesirable. They can act unscrupulously. They can be violent. They can be wrong.
There will, therefore, never be a perfect or ideal society in which no one ever gets sick, injured, dies, is poor, fails to achieve their goals, or is unhappy. All that can be done, as libertarians have long pointed out, is to lay down a framework within which the greatest number of people have the greatest chance to pursue their own dreams, their own way, and achieve success – whatever that may mean for them.
So what we have to decide is whether the basis for this most rationally lies in a structure that inherently uses aggressive force and coercion as the means by which economic and social goals are sought after, or whether these matters are best pursued by voluntary agreement among free individuals.
Yes, it really is that simple.
Which model, given all the imperfections and excesses of human nature, do you think promises the best chance of working decently most of the time? Consider also, my fellow libertarians, that as our numbers grow, the incidence of these aberrations within our own ranks will increase. When society at large openly accepts such principles, they will continue correspondingly. That’s not cynicism, but only truth.
The first one has been in place, in one variation or another, for over 70 centuries now. That’s 7,000 plus years. And look around you. That’s human nature under government, and the tacit endorsement of aggression that it has bred.
As well, in that time, automobiles have replaced carts with stone wheels. Supercomputers have replaced abucuses. E-mail now takes the place of stone tablets. And so on. And yet government, other than some superficial window dressing, hasn’t really changed all that much.
Are we really to believe that there can be no measurable improvement in the way people deal with one another? That the idea of societal structure is somehow immune to change, improvement, or progress? That continuing to live in the darkness of caves is preferable to exploring the cosmos in starships?
The second option – the voluntary one -- is the one that hasn’t been favored yet.
Don’t you think it’s about time?