Monday, June 06, 2005

radical or conservative

My lasts few posts, and certainly the comments to each, have prompted me to reexamine the nuances of my political philosophy. To my surprise, I seemed to be arguing from the ‘conservative’ point of view. Not the modern, partisan, right-wing, religious-moralist sense of the word. Rather, my view appears to be conservative relative to a more radical ideal that seeks the swift elimination of the state. In a provocative essay, Murray Rothbard asks: Do You Hate the State?
And that is why the radical libertarian is not only an abolitionist, but also refuses to think in such terms as a Four Year Plan for some sort of stately and measured procedure for reducing the State. The radical – whether he be anarchist or laissez-faire – cannot think in such terms as, e.g.: Well, the first year, we’ll cut the income tax by 2%, abolish the ICC, and cut the minimum wage; the second year we’ll abolish the minimum wage, cut the income tax by another 2%, and reduce welfare payments by 3%, etc. The radical cannot think in such terms, because the radical regards the State as our mortal enemy, which must be hacked away at wherever and whenever we can. To the radical libertarian, we must take any and every opportunity to chop away at the State, whether it’s to reduce or abolish a tax, a budget appropriation, or a regulatory power. And the radical libertarian is insatiable in this appetite until the State has been abolished, or – for minarchists – dwindled down to a tiny, laissez-faire role.
In the context of the previous text, I would classify myself as a “radical conservative”, or more specifically, a “pragmatic minarchist”. While I have a great deal of respect for ‘abolitionists’ and have no use for a bloated, overbearing state, I think that anarchists fail to articulate a feasible alternative.

Suppose that a majority of Americans, acting against type, decided that the state had outlived its usefulness. Further, suppose that all elected officials, also acting contrary to their nature, freely relinquished power, thereby dissolving the government. The country would then be populated by fully emancipated individuals, in addition to all of the newly released convicts from each and every prison and jail in the land. And they all lived happily ever after?

Presumably, anarcho-capitalists and left-anarchists alike envision some mechanism by which to segregate ‘bad actors’ from the general population. The question becomes: who defines what is ‘bad’ and who decides who will decide and so on? Who or what is to be the final arbiter of inter-personal disputes? Is one to assume that no faction would ever assert control and devise various regulations that favor a sub-set to the detriment of others? Admittedly, the US government is guilty of much of this, but to a lesser degree than many other countries. The reality is that states invariably arise to fill a power vacuum…it’s better to suffer the devil we know…

I am by no means a ‘statist’, at least not in the way that an overwhelming majority of the world is presently. No, I don’t need government to solve my problems, recognize my morals, define my rights or sustain my life. The only state that I support, albeit reluctantly, is an impartial referee to ‘call foul’ only when the natural rights of an individual have been infringed by another. Such an entity is a far cry from the insatiable beast that currently exists, whose reach extends to everyone and shows no signs of retreat. Nevertheless, a vast reduction of the size and scope of government is preferable to the outright disintegration of the state.