Libertarians and Power Vacuums

The libertarian movement, as a whole, tends to adopt critical postures with respect to many government policies which are misguided. The proposal to reform the banking system tends to be one of abolition: “End the Fed.” The focus is on removing the institution, rather than on what comes afterward. While there may be some intellectual discussion of how to replace it, as a practical matter, the focus is on the removal.

Similarly, when critics of the Drug War want action, they propose to eliminate the policy and replace it with nothing.

In the world of ideas, this tends to make sense. A bad policy should be ended, and at least in theory, society will then re-coordinate in the absence of the damage created by political error. Unfortunately, one political error tends to be just replaced by another set of political errors. Abolishing minimum wage laws would be a great idea… unless Communist revolutionaries were able to use that abolition as a bloody shirt to wave around to inspire a wave of terrorism. Suddenly, the wise reform becomes bumbling into a trap set by a political enemy.

This is, overall, a sort of problem with the social category of the intellectual. The intellectual just works with ideas, rather than with the implementation of those ideas and their consequences. While ideas can be evaluated in the realms of logic and other forms of rhetoric, what’ll actually happen with those ideas if they’re put into place is entirely a matter of practical politics, which tends to be far more challenging to predict and handle. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” goes triple for libertarian intellectuals, as the career of Milton Friedman — and the unintended consequences of income tax withholding, the innovation for which he was responsible — can attest to.

Similarly, the libertarian critique of police forces — often used to appeal to the left-leaning to burgeon the ever-churning ranks of the faithful — is an appeal to create a power vacuum. The Federal government is more than happy to amplify a libertarian critique of local police in order to create a vacuum which Federal power will then fill, rather than some sort of community-centered ideal of non-aggressive-angel-cops.

Just like fences are probably there for a reason, certain institutions and laws tend to be the borders demarcating the results of historical battles — most of those battles being fought with arms and words both. The goal of any thinking man of affairs should not be to create vacuums, but to overcome error with corrections, and to think always of the next step after displacing those errors.

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5 Comments

  1. I’ve thought of this as the king of the hill problem. In terms of policy, there are principles, which should be followed, but as long as there is a hill, idiots will keep trying to be the king of the hill. So, in addition to implementing the principles, one also needs to figure out how to beat all the idiots off the damn hill. If the hill can be taken away so much the better- but the idiots need to be taught the hill is not the way to do things.

    We see the progressives adopting the ‘black lives matter’ slogan and doing all sorts of questionable protests. Libertarians take each of these things on a case by case basis, and argue from principles. Of course, we all lose, because the media/USG is playing an entirely different game, which I believe is scaring upper middle class America into thinking they need a more militarized police between them and the more diverse neighborhoods. The military industrial complex must continue to expand, and the DMZ they build between you and the Latin American ghetto they’ve just created down the street from you is a promising new franchise.

    One of the reasons why I am amenable to a monarchy or some sort of aristocracy is that they could function to keep idiots off the hill, while, hopefully, implementing principled policy.

    1. Yes.

  2. Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Last paragraph – The Evicted Natural Proprieter Class of America returns to the neglected lands.

    Bravo.

  4. This kind of relates to my own big criticism of today’s Libertarians, that they want to get rid of these Modern, bloated governmental institutions (which is for the most part fine, I have no love for the bureaucratic labyrinth), but in their own Modernity they don’t seem to realize that the only reason that society functioned before these things existed was due to… other things… things they aren’t usually very fond of.

    Even if we go to America post-Founding, when things were just starting out, mob justice was very commonplace. Lynching wasn’t just something invented by the KKK. The police force didn’t need to be as powerful because serious crimes were addressed by citizens taking matters into their own hands. Child rapists for example, probably were not getting court dates in 1800, despite that “right to a fair trial” stuff.

    On the macro, since the Enlightenment government has been on a never-ending expansionist path. Small government might be its starting point, but it inevitably grows because of liberal democracy’s nature. The people eventually realize they can get free stuff if they vote a certain way.

    So Libertarianism can’t really be said to be a coherent ideology in the long term. It’s like being in favor of only the larval stage of a butterfly. But the larval stage has to give way to the next step in the metamorphosis. Really, Libertarianism is a good example of a Liberal evolution sub-category rather than some alternative which is often what it is proposed as. Furthermore, while it might have functioned reasonably with the population that existed in the 1700s, to think it would work with the current population who are so far removed from that time that those people are considered scandalous superstitious bigots, is madness. Libertarianism would not have quelled the riots in Maryland, in fact it might have made things ten times worse.

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