People are good, but not that good and not all the time. It’s vital to have arrangements in society which keep people honest enough.
People are good, but not that good and not all the time. It’s vital to have arrangements in society which keep people honest enough. People are indeed mostly wonderful - helpful, industrious, creative and productive. But they have to discouraged from seeking easier pickings through using violence to extort resources from others. Libertarianism is for the productive people who want a society with courts that will rein in all predators.
They say history is written by the victors but it might be better to say it is written by the predators. There is a natural tendency for many, including the most capable, to try to live at the expense of the productive people by using violence or the threat of violence to extract resources. Most of history was a time of poor stagnant agrarian societies. Practically all the characters in history, churchmen as well as rulers, had ample incomes derived from extorting money and obedience from poor peasants, serfs or slaves.
For example, Julius Caesar is a famous historical figure. He is believed to have sold about a tenth of the then population of France into slavery, during a conquest that may have killed another tenth. But he was at least able pay his gargantuan debts incurred buying votes in Rome. For the next two thousand years there would always be at least one, and often several, Caesars, Kaisers, Tsars and assorted emperors in the world, few of them adding much to the sum of human happiness. One of them, the Emperor Napoleon, the disastrous icing on the dismal cake of the French revolution, is said to have boasted he had an annual income of a 100,000 lives a year - or more than 500,000 lives in 1812 when he went a little overdrawn. Yet he is a great man for many.
So what did the standard of living of the masses do in the few thousand years of agrarian civilisation? It did nothing. Technology advanced slowly, and human numbers grew, but people 300 years ago, after five thousand years of despot led predation, were mostly just miserably poor.
People in those societies’ tiny business sectors were in fact routinely expropriated by the powerful. Agrarian societies therefore stayed decapitalised and stagnant. Then, in mostly free, Classical Liberal countries just two or three centuries ago, governments began to credibly agree only to steal relatively small, pre-determined, amounts from producers. It might have happened much earlier in history, or never.
We take for granted the resulting upsurge in investment, innovation and prosperity that is even now spreading around the globe from its origin in Britain, as well the resulting survival of many billions more people. But we shouldn’t. This has been humanity’s big chance to get and stay rich. Libertarianism is about not throwing it away.
But the State, the sphere of the predator, has survived and massively re-expanded in the West. The idea is that no matter how much damage it does, the State represents the wishes of the overall population. Well, people are waking up to the fact that politicians don’t represent them. Big company, billionaire and union donors get a hearing but not productive people whose money and obedience they need in order to keep going.
Libertarians see the modern State as we know it is as an abstraction hiding interlinked predatory groups of individuals claiming a right to steal and coerce with impunity. Our societies are riddled with scams and rackets based on the State’s legal privilege of using violence against people with no recourse in justice. People may think they are beneficiaries of particular win-lose deals forcibly imposed on others, but overall and long term we are nearly all the poorer for trying to live at our neighbours’ expense.
Whether notionally private or public sector, individuals benefitting from such win-lose deals are exploiting productive people. For example, they may be complicit in making them pay for unnecessary activities, foisting poor value services or goods on them, using ‘regulation’ to tilt the playing field against competition from small business and innovators, producing and spending ‘fake’ money from nothing at the expense of savers and workers, and sometimes kidnapping (‘conscripting’) men for warfare.
These bad actions wholly rely on most people’s acceptance of others’ right to bully them. Attacking another person with impunity - because that person may neither defend himself during the attack nor seek restitution afterwards - is pretty much the definition of bullying. Libertarian principles boil down to not enabling the politically strong to bully the politically weak, including the productive people who alone keep the world going.
Because they outlaw bullying, Libertarians outlaw politics as we know it. They therefore also promote the largest possible degree of voluntary cooperation between productive people in society. The fewer the politically sanctioned ‘(I) win - (you) lose’ arrangements in society, the more room there will be for healthy ‘win-win’ arrangements.
So the first part of the Libertarian attack is an unanswerable ethical stance against bullying.
The second line of attack is that, as a matter of fact, the Statist mania for coercion and extortion does not make for prosperity or security. If the world were full of proofs that more State truly meant more of all good things then doubts about Liberty might be allowed. But, contrary to what many have been given to understand, theory and history alike both support the opposite view. Every recent comparison, for example, Soviet Russia, North Korea, East Germany, Cuba and Maoist China versus the US, South Korea, West Germany, Singapore and Hong Kong shows this.
The State sucks. The more state you have, especially on the Totalitarian Socialism part of the spectrum, the worse it sucks. We would all be much better off without it.