Saturday, January 31, 2009

No moral right to rule us

I'm not a libertarian, but I like libertarians, and I listen to them. My best counterargument is often just a sheepish "people would never accept it". I think big government fulfills a desire in people, like religion. If we got rid of it, it would just be reinvented, and who knows in what form? I'm just happy my government isn't trying to kill me, and is run on well-meaning principles. That is rare enough.

Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism - A Freewheeling History of the American Libertarian Movement surveys the libertarian landscape, highlighting its fascinating thinkers and characters, from near-respectable economists to mystics and hippies. He paints the picture of a movement that is as infuriatingly impractical and stubbornly fractured as communism was, - except not evil, and never in power.

Radicals for Capitalism has only one dark chapter, the story of how Objectivism turned into a cult. Radicals for equality have killed people by the thousands and millions. The worst libertarianism has done is turn bright young people into assholes.

My favourite libertarian thinker remains Friedrich Hayek, whose pragmatic approach makes him relevant to all ideologies. (It also makes him repelling to purist libertarians). It's bad enough that mainstream parties want the government to be involved in everything, but if they read Hayek (and Hazlitt) they might do it more efficiently.

(Correction: I have just been informed that libertarianism is Dead, because it's to blame for all the banks and governments behaving like idiots. Never mind the above, then. Now how about a blogger bailout?)



At 31 January, 2009 21:38 , Blogger palode said...

I've been inspired by libertarian thinkers since I was 14, I think. At about twenty I realized that dogmatic liberatarianism can turn you into a real asshole. Now I don't know if my stance belongs to any -ism at all. And I don't care.

And I'm calm enough to see that the alternative to a big state is not almost no state. It's scalable.

I've heard objectivism is really marginal in Norway, although I'm not quite sure. There's a political Randism-party called DLF, but they got something like 300 votes last election.

At 31 January, 2009 22:37 , Blogger Bjørn Stærk said...

That's interesting - a bit surprising, since I place you on the left, but then again maybe not.

The most valuable contribution of libertarians is to be skeptical of well-intended government intervention. Social democratic politics is often short-sighted. It treats a symptom, but doesn't think about the indirect consequences. Hazlitt made that point very well. And Hayek made the important point that no one person has a full picture of the economy. So why are everyone so confident about their policies? A little humility would be useful. This also applies to libertarians - how do they know that a minimal state would _work_?

Objectivism is marginal as a movement, but as a cultural phenomenon Ayn Rand is a small but persistent presence. There's a certain kind of bright teenager who is attracted to her. Few of them make Objectivism their permanent worldview, but Rand is popular enough to be influential. I've never read Rand myself, for me it began with Heinlein. I still like him. He wasn't so concerned with theory, what inspired me was his thoughts on how to live like a free person. I would sum it up as self-reliant tolerance.


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