There have been grumblings from the commentariat in recent posts, questioning my libertarian bona fides because I think it is a good thing that journalists are treated like ordinary citizens, a bad thing that a former government grandee thinks he can break the law with impunity, a good thing that my government is at least trying to perform its most basic function – protecting me against those who trying to kill me and mine, and so forth.
I regard these positions as being pretty straightforward applications of a common-sense practical libertarianism, one that has no truck with either pacifism or anarchy, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t really laid out my basic principles.
Government is the wrong tool for nearly every job. At a minimum, civil society does a better job of creating and distributing wealth, and of regulating conduct that does not involve force or fraud. The regulatory state and the redistributionist state are both largely illegitimate and ineffective in achieving their stated goals.
Taxation is distinguishable from theft and extortion only through an attenuated theory of ‘consent’ that posits that your vote for the guy who lost somehow means you consented to a bunch of people you never even had te chance to vote for agreeing among themselves to take your money. Low taxes good, high taxes bad. Government does have legitimate functions. (I suspect this is where I start to wander off the ideological reservation). One of those is to serve as a night watchman, to protect the citizenry against force and, arguably fraud. The night watchman is truly a civic functionary only if he is impartial, so the goverment must act under the rule of law and treat everyone impartially. As a corollary, obedience to the law, even laws you disagree with, is a civic virtue, at least to that undefined point where the law is illegitimate.
Another legitimate function of government travels these days under the name ‘national security’. It is the government’s obligation to protect me from those who would attack me and subjugate me.
Everything I post is consistent with these basic principles.
John Kerry, for example, is all about raising taxes and expanding both the regulatory and the redistributionist states, is worse than George Bush on this front, and so I cannot take seriously anyone who claims both to be a libertarian and a Kerry supporter.
Special privileges, like ‘big dog’ rules for Sandy Berger and privileges for journalists, are antithetical to the impartial rule of law essential to a free society, so I mock and abuse those who claim special privilege.
We can argue about which strategy and tactics in the current war would be more effective, but I cannot take seriously anyone who can watch the footage of the two towers coming down and tell me we are not at war, or who argues that a continuation of the demonstrably failed multilateralist benign neglect that preceded 9/11 is an effective means of protecting the US.
Finally, hard experience in the trenches of politics has convinced me that the perfect truly is the enemy of the good, and that it is alway better to have half a loaf than none. This realism may lead me to express support for half measures and compromises that are disdained by the ideologically pure. Keep in mind, my friends, we have lost much of our freedom to a half century or more of half measures piled one on another. We will get our liberty back, if at all, only with half measures of our own, so my advice for libertarians who want to make a difference in the world is two-fold:
First, recognize the legitimate role of government in our flawed world.
Second, in the world of politics, take what you can get. You can always come back for more.