Sunday, December 30, 2012

Robert Higgs, Libertarian

A really excellent, contemplative piece by my friend Bob Higgs.


...after the more recent decades of my libertarian journey, I am now struck by a different aspect of this longstanding debate, which has to do with our strategy for winning people over to libertarianism. Strategy 1 is to persuade them that freedom works, that a free society will be richer and otherwise better off than an unfree society; that a free market will, as it were, cause the trains to run on time better than a government bureaucracy will do so. Strategy 2 is to persuade people that no one, not even a government functionary, has a just right to interfere with innocent people’s freedom of action; that none of us was born with a saddle on his back to accommodate someone else’s riding him.

In our world, so many people have been confused or misled by faulty claims about morality and justice that most libertarians, especially in the think tanks and other organizations that carry much of the burden of education about libertarianism, concentrate their efforts on pursuing Strategy 1 as effectively as possible. Hence, they produce policy studies galore, each showing how the government has fouled up a market or another situation by its ostensibly well-intentioned laws and regulations. Of course, the 98 percent or more of society (especially in its political aspect) that in one way or another opposes perfect freedom responds with policy studies of its own, each showing why an alleged “market failure,” “social injustice,” or other problem warrants the government’s interference with people’s freedom of action and each promising to remedy the perceived evils. Anyone who pays attention to policy debates is familiar with the ensuing, never-ending war of the wonks. I myself have done a fair amount of such work, so I am not condemning it. As one continues to expose the defects of anti-freedom arguments and the failures of government efforts to “solve” a host of problems, one hopes that someone will be persuaded and become willing to give freedom a chance.

I am reminded of H.L. Mencken's definition of "progressive democracy:"

"It [is impossible] to separate the democratic idea from the theory that there is a mystical merit, an esoteric and ineradicable rectitude, in the man at the bottom of the scale—that inferiority, by some strange magic, becomes superiority—nay, the superiority of superiorities. What baffles statesmen is to be solved by the people, instantly and by a sort of seraphic intuition. This notion . . . originated  in the poetic fancy of gentlemen on the upper levels— sentimentalists who, observing to their distress that the ass was overladen, proposed to reform transportation by putting him in the cart." (H.L. Mencken, from Notes on Democracy, 1926)

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