Friday, January 14, 2011

Easy Libertarianism (Part II)

(Part I)

Baruch Pelta has posted his final thoughts on our discussion about libertarianism. He attempts to turn the tables on me in terms of authoritarianism, arguing that I desire to force my views on government on others despite the fact that the vast majority of people disagree with me about limiting government to only protecting against direct physical harm. He asks what I would do if I ever got my way and libertarian policies failed to work. How do I intend to protect American workers from being "crushed" by corporations? What would I do about radical Islamic schools teaching children how to be terrorists? In the end Baruch sees my "hard libertarianism" as no different from a Marxist or an anarchist. "All three of these belief systems require their adherents to accept on faith their economic theories, views of human potential, and philosophical constructs."

To start with that last point, libertarianism is not just another political ideology, but an attempt to transcend all political ideologies. Being a libertarian does not mean you reject other political ideologies, one could be a libertarian Marxist or a religious theocrat, just that you reject the use of government force in pursuit of those ideological goals.

What would a libertarian country look like? It would be thousands of experiments simultaneously conducted to discover the best ways to live and organize society. Every town and neighborhood could organize itself around any ideology it chooses. You could have a liberal town that kept corporations in check and offered free education and health care. Down the highway there could be a Haredi town that bans television and does not allow women to drive. Travel further down and you could find a socialist kibbutz where everything is held in common. Despite my libertarianism, I have no desire to live in a "libertarian" town. I may believe that drugs and prostitution should be legal, but I have no desire to live near a brothel, a crack den or the people who frequent either. My freedom of association allows me to pay to live in a place without these things and, to protect my investment, make a contract banning the town from ever bringing such things in. (The white supremacist in pursuit of his own happiness could make the same bargain to ban blacks and Jews.) Libertarian America would like a lot like the present day America just without people in Washington trying to force one size fits all solutions to this country's problems.

With this in mind the other issues fall into place. If liberal policies really proved to work better in practice than the alternatives and it is very possible that they might then I would be free to accept them. This would in no way be a pragmatic rejection of my libertarian beliefs. If liberal policies worked than the liberal towns in libertarian America would be more prosperous. Seeing that, people would rush to move into liberal towns or turn their towns to liberalism. Before you know it most of libertarian America could be liberal. This would not change the government in Washington, which would continue to concern itself solely with protecting people, no matter their political ideology, from physical harm. This means foreigners trying to attack libertarian America, and Americans trying to destroy libertarian America from within by forcing their values on others.

Would libertarian America be trapped into tolerating radical Islamic schools that endorsed terrorism, without actually carrying it out? Would libertarian America have to wait until hordes of jihadist children poured out of these schools? Not necessarily. Nothing against Islam here; the same would apply to any group that turned to violence. Keep in mind that libertarianism is not rooted in an absolutist ideology, but a pragmatic social contract, a plausible agreement that a society with many factions might come to in order to stave off massive violence. I tolerate liberals, Haredim, Marxists and even Muslims for the simple reason that it is the only alternative to shooting them and having them shoot at me. If the libertarian social contract failed to protect me then the contract serves no purpose. I only refrain from pulling a Baruch Goldstein on my local Islamic school, because I believe that my government will protect me from any potential terrorists. The moment I stop believing that then I am off to kill every last person in that school.

A social contract is not a moral absolute made with the entire world. I have no social contract with people in Mexico or Canada. They may be very nice people and I wish them the best, but they are outside my social contract. For that matter not everyone living in the United States has to be a citizen and come under the social contract either. It is for this reason that the slavery tolerated by the Constitution would not necessarily contradict libertarianism. Slaves were not citizens and therefore outside the social contract. Muslims do not have an intrinsic right to be citizens and be part of the social contract. Muslims in foreign countries are certainly not. Muslims who are American citizens are part of the social contract to the extent that I believe them when they claim to not be plotting to wage war against me. Even in libertarian America, if I hear a Muslim saying that Jews are pigs and should be killed, I am going to call my representative and tell him that I no longer feel physically safe and demand that he choose between that Muslim and me. Unless they strip that Muslim of his citizenship and make sure he is no longer a threat, I will reject the social contract and turn to war. (See Crimes of De-Citizenship.)


Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

I pretty much agree with everything you've said.

I am more comfortable with a town or some such having a government that engages in coercion and social engineering, because I figure two things:
(1) It is VERY easy to move from one town to another, and
(2) With people you actually KNOW personally, it is very easy to have an implicit social contract. If you live in Meah Shearim, it is easy to argue that you accepted the Haredism of that place, more than one can argue that you accept Washington because you live in the US. A contract can be either implicit or explicit. In fact, I think minhag ha-maqom is nothing other than an implicit contract. But notice that in Jewish history, it was only ever applied to a town; every town had its own.

Now, that doesn't mean a town SHOULD impose coercion. It just means that if it does, it is easier to justify that coercion, all other things being equal. All the other ways we evaluate government actions will apply the same, but the element of coercion will be easier to answer. So it would probably be a bad idea for a small town to burn witches, but it would be better than a Washington directing the same.

One note: you say, "Slaves were not citizens and therefore outside the social contract." Now, I agree, but I think you should clarify, and say something like this: Slaves were not citizens and therefore outside the social contract. Now, slavery was still wrong, it being an act of one man criminally exploiting and coercing another. But it was not a political crime. Being that slaves were outside the social contract, they were not a party to the government, and therefore, the criminality of slavery was due to its being slavery per se, in and of itself, and politics and government had nothing to do with it. At the same time, however, having laws upholding slavery - such as fugitive slave laws, or viewing them as property in civil court - inexorably makes the government a party to the whole affair, and re-politicizes slavery. But if the government remains entirely aloof from slavery altogether, not giving it any recognition one way or the other, then slavery is just another inhumane crime, and not a specifically political one.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Of course, that is a very unrealistic view of slavery. A better argument would be this, I think:

If blacks in post-slavery America were denied access to public schools, but were also not required to pay taxes, and were thus entirely exempt from EVERYTHING governmental, then blacks would be like a nation within a nation, like the American Indians, and discrimination would be alright, because they would be outside the social contract, and the government would be entirely aloof from them, both for good and for bad.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Oh, you might like the article, "The Covenant Origins of the American Polity", online here and here. An excerpt: "Furthermore, decentralized political institutions required the existence of healthy social institutions, which included voluntary associations. The mainstays of society in Plymouth Colony were, first, the family, then the church and the state in supporting roles. As John Demos points out, the family combined the attributes of a business, school, vocational institute, church, house of correction, and welfare institution. And so it was to remain for some time after the War for Independence, sometimes supporting a larger charitable outreach. It is this combination of ingredients that lends a peculiarly libertarian quality to American social institutions. The civil government was regarded as a constituent rather than a constitutive element of society. By 1781, a 'perpetual union' was in operation under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution of 1787 formed 'a more perfect union' rather than an entirely new system of government."