Frequent samizdata commenter ‘Jaded Libertarian’ wants to ask a question:
After a number of years dwelling on the matter I think I have just about got what I personally believe straight. The guide I have used to get there is what I believe to be both moral and just. I am not particularly well read in this area, but have thought myself to a fairly classical liberalism – nothing that has not been said before. No man has the right to transgress another’s liberty unless he is causing physical harm to another’s person or property – that kind of thing. I now know what I believe and that is great. I never tread on another person’s autonomy if I can help it. So how do I get the rest of society to extend me the same courtesy?
Here’s where I have run up against a wall.
To effect political change that would enshrine the rights of the individual would require imposing this system on a great many people who do not want increased personal autonomy – and what is more they do not want me to have it either. It scares them. Much as I disagree with them, it is not for me to seek to impose upon them a life they do not want, even if they do not extend me the same courtesy. To do so would be most illiberal.
The only way in which some good could come of such thinking would be if someone was willing to degenerate the rights of naysayers in order to enshrine the rights of everyone else. This seems to have been what (partially) happened in the USA, and many still reap the benefits. But it would be unwise to try and repeat the process. First of all it seems morally dubious at best. Secondly, history has shown us that political revolutions almost always result in dictatorships and tyranny. America was an aberration never to be repeated.
My own thinking thus far is that knowing what I believe and how I will act is, for now, enough. Society is after all made up of individuals. If by some bizarre chance every single person resolved to respect one another’s liberty, we would find ourselves in utopia overnight. Of course that is not going to happen, but then everyone else’s motivations are none of my business and it is not for me to criticise.
I try to live by the words of Burns:
Then let your schemes alone, Adore the rising sun, And leave a man undone. To his fate
Sadly although it eases my own heart, it does not get me away from the fundamental flaw in libertarianism. I am compelled to live under collectivist tyranny, something which I would never wish upon another.
How can libertarianism ever be anything more than a nice intellectual exercise to put yourself through if it cannot be acted upon by its very nature?