Wednesday, October 31, 2018


I have read that the reason there will never be a libertarian society is that libertarian are so individualistic that they can't agree on anything - it's like herding cats.  Libertarians are a querrelsome lot, but hey, come to think of it, that might apply to us here too?

Jerry Taylor is a left leaning libertarian who was once a member of the Cato Institute and in his interesting article he points out some of the faults, in his opinion, in libertarianism thinking. He believes that a strong, but limited, government which he says will give people the most freedom. One thing I like about this article is that he says that many libertarians would give up on libertarianism if it did not create the better society for everyone they had hoped for.

Those of us on the left also argue that a fair, benign, and truly democratic government will give us the most freedom. State healthcare frees people from a lot of worry, and there's no need to spend hours going over the small print when choosing health insurance only to find that there is still lots of get out clauses when you go to claim. In a state system a panel of experts will spend weeks, if not months, reading the small print and negotiating the best deal.

Employment rights give the majority of people more freedom too, and so on.

By the time you have got a society that balances the maximum freedom for people  while ensuring that businesses can work at their best too, Jerry Taylor's libertarian state might not be much different to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party run state.


Some of my old colleagues maintained that their ideological commitments were anchored in moral principle regarding how society ought to be ordered (for libertarians, “freedom, for good or ill!”). When pressed, however, they usually conceded that they thought their ideological commitments would produce better social outcomes, and that if that turned out to be false, they would have to reassess their beliefs. This is an important concession in that it qualifies the ideologue’s commitment to principle: the principle must have good outcomes. As John Rawls once argued, any ideology that does not concern itself with the real-world impact of its ideas on society is a thing of madness.
That madness, however, often arises in ideological communities because their attachment to principle is so powerful that it becomes an end unto itself. For instance, in my old circles, libertarians will argue passionately against the state but marshal little evidence about what sort of society might actually arise in the modern world were the state to largely disappear. Perhaps the most impressive intellectual ever to take up the libertarian cause — Robert Nozick — had absolutely nothing to say about that in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (my bible for most of my adult life).
There is a good reason for this omission. Wherever we look around the world, when we see inconsequential governments with limited power, as libertarians would prefer, we see “failed states.” How much liberty and human dignity can be found there? Very little.
That, in fact, is the main point of one of the best contemporary rejoinders to libertarianism — Mark Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan. Weiner’s argument is that without government, we don’t usually have unconstrained freedom and autonomy. We have instead the rule of family, caste, church, criminal syndicates, or any number of nongovernmental agents. Historically speaking, those nongovernmental agents have done far more violence to individual liberty and autonomy than have modern welfare states. The modern welfare state, Weiner argues, has tended to expand liberty by using its power to free people from the oppression and deprivation that so often followed from the rule of nongovernmental actors.
How much liberty and human dignity can be found in the world where state power breaks down and is overcome by private power? Very little. That point was well made in episode 23 of HBO’s The Sopranos, wherein a man comes forward as a witness to a crime without knowing that it was committed by New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. He sits in his living room reading Anarchy, State, and Utopia when his lawyer calls to tell him that he has inadvertently put himself in the crosshairs of the mafia. Our concerned citizen turns white, puts the book down, and frantically calls the police to retract his statement. The message, echoed by political scientist Bo Rothstein, is clear: “In a ‘stateless’ Robert Nozick type of society, where everything should be arranged by individual, freely entered contracts, markets will deteriorate into organized crime and corruption.”
For ideologues, adequate concern about the real-world implications of their visions moving from (beautiful) theory to (messy) practice is rare indeed.

Niskanen Centre


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