Jon Stewart and Libertarianism Part II
You can find Part I here. We covered positive liberty enhancing effects of government projects, the free market and individual failure, the state and society, and the idea that since everyone's success depends on others wealth should be redistributed. Let's keep this moving.
One thing before we start. I think it would be helpful if you had a firm understanding of the difference between government and the State. For those new to my blogs, or new to political theory, the State is a different entity than government. Societies can have governments without a state. It's a voluntary government where consent can be given and withdrawn, while rules and standards of conduct are agreed upon among members. At the point someone disagrees, either they move on or they are shunned or there can be violence. It should be pointed out that such violence was so minor that it is completely missing from your history books, despite the millions of small non-state governments that have existed.
On the other hand the State is a coercive entity that exists for one purpose and one purpose only, to extract the wealth of others for the expansion of its own power. To be dictionary precise, a State is an entity with a monopoly (I prefer comparative advantage) on force/violence within a geographical area. Here's a couple of examples to help you distinguish a State from a government. Belgium still does not have a constitutional government (they were close last time I checked). Along the way during this government shutdown, they have set some records for longest time a Western nation has gone without a functioning govenrmnet. Yet, in reality, nothing has changed. The bills get piad and money gets printed and the politically connected get their contracts and the sun rises and sets. How does this happen? Because while the government of Belgium shut down, the Belgian State is open for business.
Another way to view the State is the Catholic Church. Many politcal philosophers believe that the bureaucratic model implemented by the Church laid the groundwork for the expansion of the power of the political State. Church bureaucrats learned the trick to perpetual loot, by creating "necessary" entites populated with unelected officials. (The Chinese used a similar model for centuries as well, but I will let you guys argue over who the Western ruling classes copied.) You simply need an organization with a heirarchy that is always on the lookout for new areas of revenue. But unlike a private business, you can never go out of business because you collect the revenue regardless of whether you actually deliver a valuable service (that monopoly on force comes in handy.) If you can't grow your little bureaucracy any further, you simply create a new one and shuffle the deck a bit.
That leaves us with politicians. In this model, what are they? Well, if Belgium teaches us anything, the politician is a person given a set of choices by the State. He or she gets to pick one of the choices. That's it. This is why the policies of each US president are so remarkably similar from term to term. Both Bush and Obama get presented with the same policy choices. Bush may select Choice A and Obama picks Choice B, but both A and B were already selected for them by the State. The State really doesn't need Bush or Obama. They can just cease with the charade of presenting choices. That is Belgium.
The State is the unelected bureuacracy that controls your life because they control the use of force. So when Jon says,
In a representative democracy, we are the government
in some respects, he is correct. We might be the government. (And to the State, we are unnecessary too. It's our wealth they want.) You can vote or donate or debate for local and federal politicians. That vote is diluted by the fact that you are only one person out of millions and your choice might not even be on the ballot. It is further diluted by gerrymandering and special rules put in place by Reps and Dems to limit access to the ballot. It is further diluted by special interest lobbying. It is further diluted by the need to campaign for more votes once elected. Etc. So in an extremely limited sense, you are the government.
But you are not the State. At the federal level, there are 535 (?) people you can vote for. But there are over a million unelected and permanent bureaucrats that do not answer to you. They answer only to the expansion of the power of the American State. Here's another example. When Arab Spring broke out in Egypt, I was watching Al Jazeera nonstop. That's a network speaks openly about the difference between State and Government, unlike American media where talk about the very existence of the State is forbidden. On the show one night was a senior State Department official who was discussing American reluctance to support the protestors. He said that national interests need to be protected and that America needs to have a seat at the table of a new government. What did he mean by that? He meant that the American State has interests in Egypt. He meant that it didn't matter what the Egyptian people or the American people wanted, the new Egyptian State would be partnered with the American State. Did anyone ever vote for this guy? No. You don't get that choice. Yet he will be making these decisions for you and people around the world, completely unaccountable to you, for his entire working life.
That, my friends, is the State. You are not the State.
Is the government inherently evil?
No, but the State is, and I hope that my examples have helped you clear up the difference. The government is there to make decisions. The State is the force. The decisions are always made on behalf of the State, which is why every decision concerning tax reform must lead to a revenue neutral outcome. The State isn't going to take any less money. That's that. "Here you go, Paul Ryan and Harry Reid, these are choices A and B. Pick one." They are both revenue neutral.
Without a coercive State, you can have a government for the people. A few months ago I developed the idea of direct voting. I thought of that independently (at least I think I did, but you never know when you don't write down every source for every idea you ever hear.) But since then, I have come across other libertarians promoting direct voting as well. Basically direct voting uses existing network technology to allow Americans to vote on more (or all) of the legislation presented, making the ritual of voting for intermediary politicians obselete.
Direct voting is one way around the State. Of course, the State might find a way to only offer you Choice A or Choice B, but it would be much more difficult for the State to control the chioces of 300 million people than it is for them to control 535. Yet, ironically, when I suggested direct voting, it was our resident Progressives that gave me the hardest time. Perhaps they just don't like me and anything I say is going to be rejected. But I think they understand the State and simply prefer it to making their own decisions.
The point is that we can govern ourselves without the State. Humans have made it millions of years (or 6,000 years =D) without a coercive State. States have only ruled the entire planet for about fifty years. Up until 200 years ago, they couldn't even cover terrain that was inhospitable. So why am I supposed to believe that some dramatic shift in humanity has occurred without our knowledge in the last 200 years that makes humans ungovernable? We are not ungovernable. The State is an inhuman institution incapable of governing others because it relies on violence rather than cooperation.
The Articles of Confederation are an example of the failure of limited government.
The Articles of Confederation failed because the state (not The State) governments gave the Continental Congress one power: the power to print paper money. Like all dumb politicians however, that crisis was solved by making an even bigger central government with even more powers. Does this sound familiar to you at all?
I recommend often that you should read the Federalist Papers. I would quote them more, but for some reason quoting the Federalist Papers is politically controversial. Only State judges (working on behalf of The State) who interpreted the Constitution for us can be quoted in respectable company. Well, p*ss on that. In fact, I think you should read the Anti-Federalist Papers (those who argued against the Constitution), since they are far more understanding of the political implications of the Consitution. In fact, in the Anti-Federalist papers it is predicted that the execuitve branch will simply pack the couts to help centralize power. (McDowell, Gary L., "Were the Anti-Federalists Right?: Judicial Activism and the Problem of Consolidated Government," 1982) Hmmm...
It has been argued, and I agree, that the Constitution was simply a compromise between those who wanted more power for the elite against those who wanted liberty for the people. But with each compromise, the State gets more power and we end up with less liberty. This is because the State is focused on increasing its own power, but your primary motivation in life may not be increasing your own liberty. The State always wins this battle because in this repsect the compromise will always push us in their direction.
As a group, you don't believe in evolution
Jon made a joking reference to the idea that libertarianism sounds like natural selection, but aren't you guys a bunch of creationist wackos?
No. We're not. And I'm not here to cast judgments on those who believe in God, those who believe in the lack of a God, and those who are agnostic.
In fact, atheists were a large and vocal group in the early days of the Libertarian Party. Today the split is most likely 75-25 Christian, but don't quote me on that. The most important libertarian figures of the past 100 years are Ayn Rand (atheist), Murray Rothbard (agnostic), Ludwiig Von Mises (agnostic), Lew Rockwell (Christian) and Ron Paul (Christian).
For libertarians, religion is the choice of the individual and not relevant unless their religious actions infringe upon the rights of others.
Whether or not you agree with the theory of evolution is not relevant to a libertarian political discussion. I have read Dawkins. I think he writes like a jerk (then again, who hasn't said that about me), but his theories are explanatory and compelling. I want to know more. Ron Paul does not believe in evolution and admits he's never really studied it. Then again, he's 74 years old. My grandfather didn't read it either. But Ron Paul has no desire to prevent me from reading it and learning it because that would infringe upon my rights.
Do you see how liberty brings people together? Jon is stuck in a world where either the State uses forces to implement your policy goals (evolution in schools) or the other guy's policy goals (no evolution in school). This a contest of politcal will over who will get to use the force of the State to rule over their neighbors. It's also unhealthy for society and turns us against each other. Libertarians say "teach your children whatever you like. You know best." We leave the State out of it. Do you see why the State wants you to see Choice A (evolution in schools) and Choice B (no evolution in schools) but not Choice C (no State)?
Coming up in the next post:
Do people pay taxes because they expect it to be used for their benefit?
Are corporations or government more accountable to the people?
And depending on time: Unions, robber barons, the Progressive Age, racism and slavery, and health care