Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Monday, February 18, 2008

On Delegitimating the State

I'm traveling again this week, so I have only have time for a quick thought, a teaser. Any libertarian strategy that has any hope of succeeding must seek fundamentally to delegitimize the state, that is, to persuade people that government does not deserve the unique and privileged moral status it has been accorded throughout history. This leads to the curious insight that even those who favor limited government should advocate statelessness (free-market anarchism) because people will move to severely restrict the power of the state only when they believe it is illegitimate. Conceding its legitimacy one iota inevitably works against liberty.

9 comments:

Jimi G said...

First of all, I challenge the premise that any libertarian strategy can succeed, if success is defined as the eradication of the State. The few historical examples of "success" are exceptions to the general rule, and obviously no progress has been made since the 20th century.

Second, the State will vanish only when individuals realize that there is a greater economic benefit to them personally via statelessness than statehood. That this is so has yet to be demonstrated, at least en masse.

Simply put, in the present system, a sufficiently motivated individual can prosper just fine, even with the crushing burden of the State. It is in the economic interests of these go-getters to work within the system rather than try to dismantle it. And since these are the types of personalities that might have the power to change the system, they are co-opted by the State and unavailable to the freedom movement.

All that's left are those either too ignorant or too complacent or too subdued to motivate themselves. Good luck with that rabble.

One improved unit, that's all one can count on.

/reality check

Edward said...

I your first paragraph you contradict yourself. Exceptions to a rule dis prove a rule.

As for change in the 21st, you are only looking at eight years. In these eight years we have seen Americans become increasingly disappointed at least in the foreign aggression part of the state. Its possible that we haven't seen the effect of this cause. Also, in other parts of the world there has been many positive steps. India and China are liberalizing and the "third way" is being shown to not be an option.

"in the present system, a sufficiently motivated individual can prosper just fine"
What does just fine mean? It seems to be something like "all of their needs are fulfilled." It could be argued that in the USSR everyone was getting along just fine, it seems like for the most part they were getting sufficient nutrition to continue living. We should seek a condition of maximum happiness not a just fine level.

"that rabble"
Look at the libertarian movement, not the libertarian party. Are libertarian writers rabble? We don't need masses to achieve liberty, just a well educated core.

"One improved unit, that's all one can count on."
How about one unit, then another unit, then another, another and another? Of course we fight the marginal battle, everyone does.

Jimi G said...

Edward,

"I your first paragraph you contradict yourself. Exceptions to a rule dis prove a rule."

Absolutely false. Exceptions to the rule are exactly that -- exceptions to the rule. One may still have a rule though there be exceptions. This is a matter of probability, not absolutes.

"As for change in the 21st, you are only looking at eight years. In these eight years we have seen Americans become increasingly disappointed at least in the foreign aggression part of the state. Its possible that we haven't seen the effect of this cause. Also, in other parts of the world there has been many positive steps. India and China are liberalizing and the "third way" is being shown to not be an option."

The trend throughout history has always been toward greater and greater Statism. India and China, being States, regardless of any apparent "liberalization," thus remain States. I see nothing on the horizon to indicate that Statism is retreating, thus I extrapolate the trend of 20th Century Statism into the 21st, young as the new century may be. However, and this is highly speculative, in keeping with Friedrich Hayek's observation that major historical trends can have incubation periods of 30 years or more, I will hold out that it is POSSIBLE that Statism will retreat. That's as far as I will go.

"'in the present system, a sufficiently motivated individual can prosper just fine.' What does just fine mean?"

"Just fine" means what I defined it to mean: the net economic benefit of working in a Statist system is greater than trying to destroy it, thus being the preferable condition to the sufficiently motivated individual.

"It seems to be something like "all of their needs are fulfilled." It could be argued that in the USSR everyone was getting along just fine, it seems like for the most part they were getting sufficient nutrition to continue living. We should seek a condition of maximum happiness not a just fine level."

Straw man. Your argument, not mine.

"'that rabble' ... Look at the libertarian movement, not the libertarian party. Are libertarian writers rabble? We don't need masses to achieve liberty, just a well educated core."

To set the record straight, I don't think educated libertarians are rabble. But we are talking about large numbers of individuals (rabble) who need to be educated. That's quite a massive undertaking. You know where I stand on that.

I've often wondered if something akin to the Fabian Socialism phenomenon of late-19th Century England could occur in the U.S. for libertarianism. Tying into Hayek's principle again, I allow the possibility, but not the probability.

"'One improved unit, that's all one can count on.' How about one unit, then another unit, then another, another and another? Of course we fight the marginal battle, everyone does."

One improved unit, one voluntary individual making his/her own decisions at a time. It's the only way. Keep spreading the word. At least it gives one something to do to pass the 80-odd years one gets on Earth.

Edward said...

"Straw man. Your argument, not mine."
I justing showing the "fine" is completely meaningless.

The meat of you argument is based on trends. Which are (1) not clear and (2) even if they were, they would not be rules of reality. Even if it failed in the past, the movement might be different this time and succeed due to changes in itself or in the outside.

"One improved unit, one voluntary individual making his/her own decisions at a time. It's the only way. Keep spreading the word. At least it gives one something to do to pass the 80-odd years one gets on Earth."
I think we are in agreement here. Thats the point I was making. From that I also infer [correctly?] that you don't believe state mandated liberalism [what happens if Ron Paul wins] works [I agree].

"To set the record straight, I don't think educated libertarians are rabble. But we are talking about large numbers of individuals (rabble) who need to be educated. That's quite a massive undertaking. You know where I stand on that."
I was a little unfair here.
I not sure you need such a massive undertaking. Jeffery Friedman suggested you might only need to convince the bureaucrats. [Not an well educated group.] I too and very critical of the rabble of the libertarian movement [and party]: single issuers, gun owners, druggies and states rights bigots. I don't think we need them, actually I think we are better off with the rabble.

Excuse my grammatical and spelling errors.

steven said...

Edward, I would think that the bureaucrats would be the last people you would ever be able to convince to eliminate the state. It seems to me that they, more than anyone else, benefit from the existence of the state.

Edward said...

Yeah, thats what I thought when Friedman said that, but it seems that it would work up to a certain point. If upon the bureaucrats was impressed a notion of liberty and badness of intervention [before they became bureaucrats], they would refrain from doing some of the worst things. We certainly wouldn't expect them to do any thing that would cause them to loose their privileged positions. More basically, if economics is taut to younger people, then when they grow up they will have some notion of the badness of intervention. Some will become 'crats and politicians.

Jimi G said...

Fabian Socialism, with George Bernard Shaw as one of its most vocal proponents, sought to change the political system of England in the late 19th Century by exactly that strategy -- convincing a few key state players of the wisdom of state socialism. The Fabianists were successful and England remained overtly socialist through the greater part of the 20th Century, though state ownership of the means of production was phased out during that period.

Whether that would work with classical liberalism remains to be seen, and I view the chances of it happening in the U.S. presently as nil.

BTW, Sheldon hit a home run with his latest TGIF "Health Care Cons," though I maintain that one of his premises, that knowing that politicians are flim-flam snake-oil salesman can improve the chances of changing the system for the better, is still extremely dubious. That being said, IMHO, it is an exemplary piece of economic reasoning.

Sheldon Richman said...

Jimi G: If enough people saw through the flimflam, maybe they'd be motivated to engage in nonviolent resistance against the system, a la Gandhi. Glad you like the article. It's here.

Jimi G said...

"If enough people saw through the flimflam, maybe they'd be motivated to engage in nonviolent resistance against the system...."

That "maybe" is a bold qualifier indeed -- and maybe simians will fly out ... well, you know the rest.

Only when engaging in nonviolent resistance against the system is perceived as the least-cost method by the vast majority of individuals will change come about. I maintain, obviously, that this is not the case now, and I believe that the smart money is on it never being the case.

Frankly, cynic that I am, I think it is extremely probable that the vast majority of Americans DO SEE THROUGH THE FLIM-FLAM!!! It's just in their economic best interests to work within the system rather than fight it.

I read awhile back about some old German who lived through the Nazi regime, who said to the effect that once something like that reaches a critical mass, a society is compelled to see it through to the bitter end, and that he saw much in present America to compare to the Nazi period in Germany.

Sure, there are a few Sophie Scholls here and there, but most individuals intuitively understand that sticking one's neck out is a losing economic proposition. And another famous German, Bertoldt Brecht, said, "First comes food, then comes morality."

Have faith/hope in oneself. It's the only thing one can controi.