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Friday, June 14, 2013

Why Are There No Libertarian Countries?

The question that rattled a movement

Why are there no libertarian countries?

This question has been put forth as a devastating critique of libertarianism–mainly by those who are worried about the movement's popularity. It's attributed to Michael Lind. He certainly made it famous for a week.

I have my own responses to this question at the Daily Caller. Here’s a sliver:

Imagine King George III chatting with members of his court circa June 1776 about the inevitable permanence of monarchy, making fun of Locke’s Second Treatise. “Why are there no constitutional republics?” he’d ask. Or imagine someone in 1970 claiming a company can’t be run without bosses. Such staggering failures of imagination can only fog the mind of someone with a deep interest in maintaining the statist quo.

Read more, if you like.

Turns out some other really smart people had already been thinking along the same lines. And their responses are much cooler than mine. Here’s Ron Bailey in Reason:

One can imagine a bewigged intellectual ancestor of Lind discussing politics in a London coffeehouse, perhaps after enjoying a new performance of Wycherley’s bawdy comedy The Country Wife. This 17th-century Lind would inveigh against the presumptuous Earl of Shaftesbury for his “A Letter from a Person of Quality” opposing the divine right of kings to absolute rule. “Thank God that good King Charles II has been restored to the throne!” he would say. “Look across the world. History manifestly teaches that there have been no truly successful countries that were not ruled by absolute monarchs.”

How the rapier stings.

Will Wilkinson exposes the fallacy of Michael Lind’s big question rather succinctly: “If women’s suffrage is such a great idea, why hasn't anyone tried it?”

Jeffrey Tucker says libertarianism exists everywhere state power ain’t.

The answer is that every country has tried it and every country practices it to one extent or another. This is the reason we experience progress, enjoy wealth, and have access to things like longer lives, food to eat, cities, smartphones, financial markets, useful websites, shoes, clothes, and the like. It’s why we can mostly say what we want, fall in love and act on that, and do what we want in a general way provided we don’t hurt others. These conditions all flow from human volition using private property (including property in ourselves) that is exercised whenever and wherever it is permitted by the authorities. Government doesn’t create anything. It just takes stuff, overrides our preferences, and threatens us if we fail to comply. It has the same relationship to human liberty that a tick has to a dog. Just because ticks exist doesn’t mean that dogs aren’t real or are some untried experiment. Similarly, just because theft and murder exist doesn’t mean that we should not rather have a world in which they did not.

Then, to come full circle, I argue that the very people who are raising such questions are the ones standing in the way.

Might it be there are no libertarian “countries” because people like E. J. Dionne (who apologize for central power) and people like Lindsey Graham (who crave central power) and people like Jeffrey Immelt (who benefit financially from central power) belong to a parasitic nexus that feeds on the fears and hard work of average citizens? This nexus forms through processes generally referred to as “public choice economics.” James Buchanan (a libertarian) won a Nobel Prize for explaining how and why this process happens, and libertarians understand these dynamics better than anyone. Understanding why power corrupts doesn’t make us long to have power. It makes us long for a way to dissipate it.

  • Max Borders is author of The Social Singularity. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Social Evolution—a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. Max is also co-founder of the Voice & Exit event and former editor at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author and an entrepreneur.