Thursday, September 13, 2007

Compare and Contrast

On the one hand, we have Bryan Caplan's naïve anarcho-libertarianism:
I...think that the best way for Americans to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks on Americans is to imitate the Swiss by minding our own business. Or to be more blunt, the U.S. should buy peace in the Middle East and elsewhere the same way that Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, and Portugal bought peace with their colonies after World War II: leave them to their own devices.
So, we mind our own business and terrorists do what, reciprocate? Hah!

On the other hand, we have Kay S. Hymowitz's realism about the limits of libertarianism:

A libertarian, according to Brian Doherty, "has to believe" that "the instincts and abilities for liberty . . . are innate," that we possess "an ability to fend for ourselves in the Randian sense and to form spontaneous orders of fellowship and cooperation in the Hayekian sense." But this view of the relationship between the individual and society is profoundly and demonstrably false, especially when applied to the family.

Children do not come into the world respecting private property. They do not emerge from the womb ready to navigate the economic and moral complexities of an "age of abundance." The only way they learn such things is through a long process of intensive socialization--a process that we now know, thanks to the failed experiments begun by the Aquarians and implicitly supported by libertarians, usually requires intact families and decent schools.

Libertarianism did not have to take this unfortunate turn. Ludwig von Mises himself warned that the attempt (of socialists) to undermine the family was a ploy to strengthen the state. Hayek, too, grasped the family's role in upholding the free market. Coming of age in Europe around the time of World War I, he stressed the state's inefficiency but also warned, more generally, of the limits of human reason. "Hayek's economics was rooted in man's ignorance," Mr. Doherty writes; so were his political views, which included both an enthusiasm for freedom and a Burkean respect for customs and institutions.

It is difficult to say why this aspect of libertarianism has faded away, but the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset once provided a partial answer. In Europe and elsewhere, he observed, modern radicals have tended to be of a Marxist, collectivist bent; in America, with its peculiar Lockean legacy and Jeffersonian ideals, radicals have gone to the other extreme, searching for absolute freedom. It is a quest that has left little room for the confining demands of family and other unchosen social bonds.

Good things don't just happen, they must be made to happen. If they are not, bad things will prevail because the anti-social aspects of human nature -- dominance, enviousness, and aggressiveness -- outweigh the pro-social ones.

Related posts:
Social Norms, State Action, and Liberty
Anarchistic Balderdash
The Meaning of Liberty