Sunday, January 10, 2010

Conceived in Liberty

Re an issue raised by an anonymous commentator here. The fact that there has been no purely libertarian government in history does not prevent mankind from switching to it. The fact that there had been no freedom of speech in the world until the 17th to 18th centuries did not prevent Great Britain and the US from introducing it. The fact that there had been no religious liberty in the world until that time did not prevent the West from introducing it either. The fact that mankind has been largely ignorant or made mistakes for thousands of years does not prevent it from increasing its knowledge or correcting its mistakes.

As to the early US, in the late 18th century through the first half of the 19th century it was much closer to the ideal libertarian model than to the current "mixed-economy" (i.e. crypto-socialist) model. Currency was issued mostly by privately-owned banks (in the northern states at least) and the monetary system was based on a relatively sound gold and silver standard (though it was not a pure 100% specie standard, which I prefer). The tax burden and government spending were below 10% of GDP (now they approach 40%). Schools and hospitals were largely private, and government involvement in education and healthcare was minimal. Free speech and religious freedom were protected. There were almost no restrictions on pornography, gambling and prostitution (they were introduced later on in the 19th century). U.S. presidents refused to authorize government funding of infrastructure projects on constitutional grounds, while most states imposed constitutional bans on infrastructure funding after failed "internal improvement" projects. So, yes, while the US was not a "purely" libertarian society, it was the closest approximation of libertarianism in history. So the Founding Fathers were indeed in this sense libertarians (especially Madison and Jefferson). 


Anonymous said...

An excellent commentary! Since I quit being a libertarian, by everyone's definition here, I must be a socialist, but I am still in favor of relaxing all vice laws; why are republicans so damn interested in arresting people for drug use/ and or possession?

Reaganx said...

Neither I nor any other people posting here are responsible for anti-drug Republicans since, as far as I'm aware, no one here is in favor of drug prohibition.
P.S. Socialists come in several varieties. Some of them - communists - are brave enough to follow their fundamental principles to their ultimate conclusions despite the fact that these principles fail and collapse whenever they clash with reality. Others - social democrats who are in vogue in Europe - subconsciously feel the impracticability of socialism and are therefore reluctant to consistently practice it and willing to dilute it with the perceived vice of "capitalism". US liberals (you're apparently one of them), for their part, are a milder version of social democrats who are too cowardly to even admit they're socialists because of the strong anti-tyrannical tradition in the United States, the only society in history founded on the libertarian concept of natural rights to life, liberty and private property.
To be fair, I should provide a similar classification for "right-wingers." The most consistent of them are Objectivists (followers of Ayn Rand), since they advocate the most fundamental principle on which a free society is founded - rationality. Non-Objectivist libertarians are less consistent since they often compromise both on fundamental philosophic principles and on political theory. The least consistent are conservatives in general (if the two above groups are excluded from the conservative movement), many of whom are rotten to the core, with religious bullshit and primitive nationalism totally clogging their minds.