Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Utopian Schemes

In the preceding post I referred to anarcho-capitalism. Anarcho-capitalism rests on the utopian proposition that peace and liberty can reign in a stateless world in which human beings freely contract with each other for all goods and services, including justice and defense. But admitting that justice and defense might be necessary is tantamount to admitting that peace and liberty might not reign, that there are renegades -- potentially powerful ones -- who are uninterested in peaceful cooperation, free markets, property rights, and all the rest of it. From there it is but a step to imagine that such renegades might prevail. And it is but another step to acknowledge that they have prevailed in many places and at many times, up to and including the present.

Anarcho-capitalism is not the only utopian worldview, of course. Consider this definition of utopian: "The ideals or principles of a[n] . . . idealistic and impractical social theory." Communism and socialism also fit that definiton. The difference between anarcho-capitalism, on the one hand, and communism and socialism, on the other hand, is that communism and socialism have reigned in some places and at some times. But they have reigned in name only; like anarcho-capitalism, pure communism and pure socialism are idealistic and impractical.

And it is practicality that matters, not imaginary schemes based on implausible assumptions about human nature. Most persons know instinctively that anarcho-capitalism is nothing but a pipe dream, an ideology not worth their time and attention. Anarcho-capitalism (like its close relative, Objectivism) is mainly the refuge of naïfs, cranks, malcontents, and persons under the age of 25 who are still searching for "the meaning of life." Anarcho-capitalism, in other words, can actually harm the cause of liberty to the extent that it is mistaken for realistic libertarianism.

What is realistic libertarianism? It is Hayekian classical liberalism, which focuses on the maximization of liberty under the aegis of a state that dispenses justice and provides for the common defense. (See this, this, and this, for example.) Our most realistic hope for living in something close to a state of classical liberalism is the realization of the principles of the Constitution of the United States. Those principles more or less held sway for 120 years, until the advent of the "progressive" movement about 100 years ago.

Is the Constitution a perfect statement of libertarian principles? No. Are the principles the Constitution still attainable in practice? Perhaps not entirely. But the Constitution still says what it says -- its words cannot be obliterated. It is therefore a realistic and practical project to restore something like constitutional government to the United States. As I suggested in the preceding post, we may be only a Supreme Court justice or two away from beginning to undo the damage of the past 100 years.