Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Fundamental Problem With Libertarianism

I was once a Libertarian. I'm not any more.

Libertarian ideas are revolutionary. I've been told that Trotsky once said "Every revolutionary should study chess." Few Libertarians would consider Trotsky's opinion on anything, but Trotsky overthrew a powerful government, so I figure his opinions on revolution are informed opinions.

The best book on chess that Libertarians should read is The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank, which left me certain after many years that I was absolutely no Libertarian, and more than that, embarrassed to have ever been one. The book doesn't address Libertarianism directly, and in fact doesn't even do it the courtesy of taking it seriously at all. It's a book about how American conservatives have followed a deliberate strategy of destroying, undermining, and sabotaging the Federal government.

They've done so with the support of Libertarian think tanks all over Washington. Republican Presidents and legislators use Libertarian arguments to advance policy decisions which benefit business, then conveniently forget those same arguments when it comes to issues of government debt or unnecessary military spending. They even conveniently forget the arguments when advancing business interests in ways which contradict every last iota of Libertarian political theory.

They forget the arguments because they have no real interest in them; they serve only as justifications. The hypocrisy of politicians is no surprise, but the Libertarian think tanks themselves are complicit in this scam. Frank quotes one of their policy wonks freely confessing that he constructs his reasoning with no concern for intellectual integrity or even internal consistency. The arguments are only a means to an end.

The end, of course, is policy decisions which benefit business. If you think it through, this should be enough to destroy Libertarianism for you. That one domino can crash the whole set.

It takes work to achieve political change. You achieve it through violence, volunteerism, and/or money. I'm going to leave out violence, because I think it's pretty obvious that anyone looking for violent revolution to succeed in the United States is just insane. If you seek a peaceful, non-violent revolution in American politics, your only options are money and volunteerism.

There's already a lot of money in Libertarian think tanks; it comes from business. The explosion of dedicated Libertarian volunteerism necessary to transform the United States has yet to materialize, even though the Republican Party has harnessed an explosion of socially conservative volunteerism in the service of the same business interests that benefit from Washington's "Libertarian" bullshit factories. Money from business interests provides the only real political pressure pushing policy in a Libertarian direction.

This means that if you want to achieve a Libertarian transformation of the United States, your only possible winning strategy is to get as much money from business as possible. But that means that the only way to get government out of business is to get business into government. In order to affect this revolutionary change, you would need to leverage a great deal of political momentum from campaign contributions originating with business interests. Then, once you had achieved a Libertarian transformation, you would need all the people with strong ties to business interests, who would owe their political careers to these strong ties, to turn their backs on their business allies. You would need to empower business interests in the political arena, and then prevent them from exercising their power.

If politics were chess, Libertarians would be trying to win by holding up the pawn, saying "my pawn has a machine gun!", and making little pew-pew noises. It just doesn't work that way.

Update: Couple tweets accused me of knocking over a straw man here.

The fact that some Libertarians don't like the GOP doesn't make a difference. I didn't bother going into detail about that, even though I do acknowledge it in the links, because it's irrelevant. If you're going to accuse me setting up straw men, click the links first, please, because you're accusing me of not knowing things I mention; and consider the possibility that you just didn't get the argument in the first place. Seriously, I've got stuff to do today.