I don’t even know what to write about anymore.
The Kavanaugh-SCOTUS debacle was so bad, and so predictable, that I thought it was worth avoiding altogether, even though it’s important. I thought about writing on why it’s important to understand “the other side” of a debate. In the US, as in democracies everywhere right now, political polarization has occurred. Nobody is listening, but nobody is paying attention to the important stuff, either. There’s no mention of checks and balances or rule of law, but plenty of ink has been spilled on “legitimacy,” as if the beliefs of the mob are somehow superior to minority rights and due process in a free and open society.
Don’t people realize that the Supreme Court, in fact the whole judicial branch of government, is supposed to be somewhat anti-democratic? Wasn’t that high school civics?
The election of Donald Trump has overwhelmed libertarians, I think. He’s too vulgar for us to properly counter. He’s a demagogue and he’s immoral. NOL‘s traffic has gone up over the past two years since Trump’s election victory, but the number of posts has gone down. Even I have switched from writing about political issues to simply sharing stuff that’s mostly non-political. Again, how do you counter something so vulgar and crass using the written word and your own humble logic? I understand why Leftists have taken to the streets. I understand why they use violence and intimidation to get their points across.
The root cause of the populist surge across the democratic world is hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it never will be properly pinpointed. Yet, I see two causes: the first is a simple lack of knowledge about what liberty means. Just mention the word “liberty” in your next conversation and you’ll see what I mean. It has become archaic or even eccentric. “Liberty.” Its meaning has become lost. And in the meantime, populist demagogues throughout the West have taken a dump all over the meaning of freedom. Demagogues now assault the liberties of minorities, of refugees, and of foreigners in the name of freedom.
How did we let this happen? How did libertarians let this come to pass? Complacency is the wrong answer here. Libertarians fell under the spell of economizing. Libertarians and libertarian organizations sought to become more rational, more efficient, and more eye-catching as the medium of mass communication has moved from television and print to digital and print. Something called “data” or “metrics” convinced libertarians worldwide to bend the knee. But the hallmark of liberty has always been informality and spontaneity. Institutional and professional organizations are a great complement to libertarian activism (whatever that might be), but once rationalization overpowered the informal nature of libertarian networks, populism prospered as libertarians, too worried about their careers in Washington, took the cowardly route. I am part of the cowardly crowd. I should have spoken up more often. I should have been more a fighter.
The second cause of the populist surge is globalization and the lack of formal institutions to accompany its spread across the globe. The spread of formal markets has decreased income inequality worldwide, but has increased that same inequality within countries that have been economically developed for centuries. If a poor country is trading with a rich country, and the poor country is obviously cheating, there is nothing citizens in the rich country can do to stop the cheating other than stop trading with the poor country. If the world had better formal institutions to confront stuff like this, the populists would have remained forever on the margins of their respective societies. The World Trade Organization was seen as “good enough” by those inside Washington and by those who should have known better.
A fuller, more robust vision of the free and open society has not yet been produced. There are those in libertarian circles who argue that charter cities or “seasteading” ventures are the proper future of humankind, the proper future of liberty. Yet running away from the world does not seem like a smart thing to do. It’s certainly cowardly, and we’ve had enough of that over the past three or four decades to last us a lifetime. A better, more up-to-date, argument for the free and open society needs to be built off of the works of liberty’s past defenders. Globalization has been good for the world’s poor, but it has sidelined the voices of the world’s middle classes (who work in the world’s rich countries). To fight populism, I am going to continue to figure out how to make globalization a little bit better for everybody, instead of just ignoring the complaints of the middle classes. I think expanding the Madisonian republic territorially is the best way to go about this. I may be wrong, but I’ll never know if I don’t at least take a crack at it.