I found myself nodding in agreement whilst reading this snapshot analysis of the state of politics in Britain by Brian Micklethwait.
What he is really describing is the slow, but seemingly irreversible, public disengagement from politics and its traditional practices. The ever decreasing voter-turnout, not just in Britain but elsewhere, confirms it. People simply don’t want to talk about politics or politicians anymore (except to complain about both). The whole subject is boring; painfully boring. Switch channels, change subjects, let’s talk about Feng Shui instead. Or skiing. Or David Beckham. Or something. Anything. Politics is dull. Politicians are all the same anyway.They’re all useless. They’re all liars. Voting changes nothing.
Good. Disengagement from and disillusion with politicians is precisely what we want and not voting is a libertarian act. But it may not have libertarian consequences.
First of all, voter apathy is not being matched by bureaucratic or managerial apathy. In fact, if anything, the reverse is true. (I do not have any scientific evidence but there may be some correlation here). The less the public engages in political debate the more laws and regulations and policies get churned out. Take the EU (somebody, please). There is no voter engagement at all with the EU commission yet it is a sausage-factory of pointless pettyfogging decrees. It is almost as if, freed from the effort and inconvenience of actually having to argue the merits of their case(s), our political masters are free to do more or less as they please. Added to this is the damage than can be wrought by small but well-organised and energetic lobbyists (coporate and otherwise) who can pressure politicians to get their agenda imposed upon all. Meanwhile, the poor exhausted public simply rolls its eyes, tuts, grumbles and gets on with it, as if they expect this and just have to learn to live with it. There is apathy but widespread obediance and disillusion is a long way from rebellion.
Now some will say that this state of affairs cannot possibly last forever and they would be right. But it can last for an awfully long time and, currently, there is no end in sight.
Secondly, there most certainly is a huge, sucking ideological vacuum out there and nature dictates that it will be filled sooner or later. Certainly liberty is the oxygen that may well fill it but it is just as possible that it may be filled by a re-emergence of communism or (more likely in my view) tribal nationalism. Reason does not always triumph over stupidity and, let’s face it, collectivist philosophies have always had a far more visceral appeal to disenchanted and angry mobs.
Libertarians tend to assume that because we are right we will prevail. Dangerous, very dangerous.