Misguided Attack on Libertarians (Prompts Some Reasonable Discussion)
This time it’s Michael Lind, and the charge is that libertarians are really just fascists in disguise. He stumbles out of the gate claiming that none other than Ludwig von Mises was a fascist — you know, von Mises, the Jewish liberal refugee from Nazi Germany.
I’ve explained at Cato why the charge is textually absurd as well as biographically, but the short of it is this: In 1927, Mises really did say that fascism seems to have helped save the West from communism, but he also said:
Fascism does nothing to combat [socialism] except to suppress socialist ideas and to persecute the people who spread them. If it wanted really to combat socialism, it would have to oppose it with ideas…
Repression by brute force is always a confession of the inability to make use of the better weapons of the intellect — better because they alone give promise of final success. This is the fundamental error from which Fascism suffers and which will ultimately cause its downfall…
So much for the domestic policy of Fascism. That its foreign policy, based as it is on the avowed principle of force in international relations, cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization requires no further discussion. To maintain and further raise our present level of economic development, peace among nations must be assured. But they cannot live together in peace if the basic tenet of the ideology by which they are governed is the belief that one’s own nation can secure its place in the community of nations by force alone.
Not really the words of a fascist. But anyway. Here Roderick Long takes on the much more serious charge that libertarians are anti-democratic and therefore pro-autocratic:
One reason for Lind’s conflation is that he automatically translates being anti-democracy into being pro-autocracy — because he assumes that the only alternative to democracy is autocracy. But in fact there is a third option; rather than the many dictating to the few or the few dictating to the many, what libertarians seek is a world where nobody is in a position to dictate to anybody — or at least to get as close to that situation as possible. (It might be argued that such a system actually has a better claim to the term “democracy” than those regimes that typically receive that label.) For anarchist libertarians, this means replacing the state entirely with networks of voluntary association; for minarchist libertarians, it means structuring the machinery of government in such a way as to make it as difficult as possible to abuse.
In other words, libertarians don’t oppose democracy (in the conventional sense) because they hanker after autocracy; they oppose democracy because it is too much like autocracy.
And even this point assumes, generously, that existing democracies really are majoritarian. As many libertarians have argued, the logic of monopoly government and special-interest capture explains why real-life “democracies” tend to be plutocratic oligarchies in democratic trappings.
There are two different ways of being pro-democratic. Plot on the y axis of a graph the proportion of people who can vote. Plot on the x axis the proportion of topics they can vote on. The absolute advocate of democracy sits in the upper right corner; he sits alone and is probably also imaginary.
I submit that approaching the upper right hand corner can be just as tyrannical as approaching the lower right. I further submit that most other political factions don’t sufficiently appreciate this, but libertarians often do. If the x value is too high, it helps not at all to expand the y value, and no expansion of the x value should be considered good merely as such.
To me, the sweet spot is actually near the upper left corner, touching the top of the graph, but not quite touching the left side. In other words, every adult citizen gets to vote. And they vote on very little altogether, because far more things are set aside as matters of individual choice, not subject to a vote or even to the actions of the people’s representatives. Taken seriously, and modern terminological conventions notwithstanding, individual rights are anti-democratic.