One of the most appealing aspects of a libertarian outlook is simplicity. It is often the case that when one examines, in greater depth, what initially appears to be a libertarian conundrum, it proves not to be. One such faux-dilemma, suggested to me by Alan K. Henderson’s comments to Andy’s post below, is the extent to which liberty can be threatened by non-state interests.
This can be the basis for populist political crusades against “Big Oil”, “Big Pharma”, even “Big Food”. The faux libertarian conundrum is the notion that we need a strong state as a guarantor of “real competition”: to break up monopolies in the interests of consumers. Yet surely such interference in the market is un-libertarian? In reality the conundrum evaporates when one examines how such monopolies arise. Put simply, monopolies wither in the free market and thrive under state regulation. Such monopolies, rightfully abhorrent to any free market capitalist or libertarian, are sustained by the very political system which seeks to regulate them. Just as the enforced “tolerance” of multiculturalism is a form of intolerance, so enforced competition is inimical to true free-market competition.
A similar dilemma is suggested by considering the plight of those in Northern Ireland who have fallen foul of paramilitaries. It matters little to a person tortured or exiled on threat of death whether his tormentors are acting for the state or a paramilitary group, Yet so-called human rights bodies such as Amnesty International, pay little attention to the human rights of such individuals, reserving their comments for infringements by state forces. Glenn Reynolds struck a chord when he cheered David Trimble for pointing this out. Needless to say this did not go down too well with some of the socialists and nationalists who comment at Slugger O’Toole. The conundrum is that surely a libertarian can agree with Amnesty’s justification: It is proper to be more concerned by state abuses than actions by private agents.
In examining this “conundrum” it also evaporates but leads to a surprising, counter-intuitive insight. In the segregated, working class urban ‘bantustans’ of Northern Ireland, paramilitaries are in a position to exert punishment and enforce exiles because they have been ceded a monopoly of violence. By the state. Local hostility to police forces means they are reluctant to carry out normal policing and individuals are prevented from defending themselves. This gives the paramilitaries a free run. Though they are nominal antagonists, the IRA effectively operates a monopoly of violence backed by the British state. The plight of its victims should be the proper concern of any agency which professes to uphold human rights.