The Vexing Libertarian Issue of Transition

I have appointed myself an old sage to the world. When your knees are creaky and every snotty eighteen-year-old treats you patronizingly, the least you can do to compensate is award yourself wisdom. Anyway, long story short, it’s a good excuse to spend much time on Facebook. I feel I am rendering a public service. I am continuing my teaching career there. It’s unpaid but the conditions are much better and all the students actually want to be in class.

Of course, it’s also true that Facebook is addictive. It’s not a bad addiction. For this old guy, it’s almost incredible to have frequent conversations with an MD in Pakistan, my niece in India, an old girlfriend in Panama, a young friend’s wife in Japan, and of course, many different kinds of French people. I even have a Facebook friend who lives in the mountains of Algeria; we have lively talks in French. Recently, a young woman who described herself as a Myanmar village girl reached out. (I know what you are thinking but if she is really one of those internet sex trolls, I salute the originality of her marketing strategy.) At all times a day and night, I have at least one Facebook friend who is not asleep. It’s pleasant in these days of confinement.

The same confinement, perhaps, slows me down and makes me more likely to tally up everything. As a result, a new impression has pierced my consciousness. Expressing contempt for democracy seems to be in vogue among people who identify as libertarians (with a small “l,” big “L” Libertarians have nearly vanished from my world. It could just be me.) This contempt reminds me that I have been asking the same question of libertarianism for now about fifty years, all with not much success.

I refer to the question of transition. I mean, what is it supposed to look like moving from wherever we are, in terms of governance, to a society with a drastically diminished government interference in individual lives? I have been receiving evasive answers, answers that don’t make even superficial sense, and swift escapes effected by changing the subject.

Let me say right away that I am not looking for a crushing reading assignment (a common punitive, passive-aggressive maneuver among intellectuals). Mine is a simple question. One should be able to sketch a rudimentary answer to it. Then, it would be up to me to follow through. Then, no excuse!

To my mind, there are only two extreme transition scenarios. One is the Somali scenario. The state falls apart under its own incapacity to limit internal aggression. It disappears or nearly so. When the point is reached where government authority extends only three blocks from the presidential palace to the north and east, and one block from the south and east, you pretty much have a stateless society. Goal reached!

The second scenario is a gradual change from the current “democratic” arrangements. I mean by this fair and reasonably honest elections followed by a peaceful transfer of power. I mean freedom of expression. And, disturbingly, this also includes courts of law. This is disturbing because courts without enforcement of their decisions are not really courts. This fact implies the threat of coercion, of course.

Now, I can imagine a situation like right now with the Corona Virus epidemic when governments (plural) demonstrate on a large scale their inability to do the obvious. The citizens often react to this sort of demonstration by asking for better and more government. However, it does not have to be that way. The combination of wide communication through the internet and – like now – of enforced leisure – may switch the dial. It’s conceivable that large numbers will get the idea that government that is at once heavy-handed, expensive, and incapable is not a good answer to much of anything. With that scenario one can imagine a collective demand for less government.

Strangely, this sort of scenario may be on display in France now, as I write. Well, this is not so strange after all. A deeply statist society where govt absorbs 55% of GDP and up may be exactly the best place to figure out that more government is not the answer. From this thought to the idea that less government may be the answer there is but one step. My intuition though is that it’s a big step. That’s because few people understand markets. No one but a handful of college professors seems to have read the moral philosopher Adam Smith. (Tell me that I am wrong.)

So, I would like for those who are more advanced than I am on this issue of transition (a low bar) to engage me. I am not interested in the same old ethical demonstrations though. Yes, the state is an instrument of coercion and therefore, evil. I already know this. In the meantime, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States does a fair job of protecting my freedom of speech, my freedom, of thought, my freedom of religion. I am not eager to leave this behind for the complete unknown. Are you? Why? How?

Nightcap

  1. Four types of labor and the epidemic Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  2. Republicans, Democrats, and coronavirus Ronald Brownstein, Atlantic
  3. War with Iran: Regrets only Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  4. Taiwan’s robust constitutionalism and coronavirus Wen-Chen Chang, Verfassungsblog

Nightcap

  1. Three strands of anti-federalist thought Nathan Coleman, Law & Liberty
  2. Globalization and postcolonial states Gupta & Sharma, Current Anthropology
  3. On the question of urban utopianism Philip Ball, homunculus
  4. Auschwitz and the new anti-Semitism Simon Schama, Financial Times

Nightcap

  1. Magna Carta for the world? Daniel Hulsebosch, NC Law Review
  2. Restoring the global judiciary Jeremy Rabkin, Law & Liberty
  3. The costs of Poland’s resistance Richard Overy, History Today
  4. Towards indigenous-settler federalism Dylan Lino, Public Law Review

Nightcap

  1. Outlaw universities (affirmative action) Michael Huemer, Fake Nous
  2. The case against judicial supremacy Marc DeGirolami, Law & Liberty
  3. Another case against executive supremacy David Cohen, Politico
  4. From outer space, the Earth is mostly blue Margarette Lincoln, Literary Review

Nightcap

  1. In praise of the “People’s Decade” Brendan O’Neill, spiked!
  2. Townes Van Zandt and Econ 101 Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  3. Modi’s populism is the result of too much democracy Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
  4. Towards a more Faulknerian US foreign policy Bruce Jentleson, War on the Rocks

Nightcap

  1. American war crimes and collective guilt Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  2. The fringe and the moderates on the left and the right Arnold Kling, askblog
  3. Some thoughts on the Best of Enemies series (1968) Rick Weber, NOL
  4. Impeachment, the constitution, and civil literacy Adrian Ang U-Jin, American Interest