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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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hoist by His Own Petard

Tibor Machan takes John Stossel to task for not espousing the pure libertarian position during his recent Fox Business Network show on the health-insurance overhaul. A proponent of Obamacare, Russel Mokhiber, challenged Stossel, an opponent of government-run medicine, by asking if he also opposes government parks and schools. Machan is unhappy with how Stossel responded, because instead of invoking the libertarian principle against government parks and schools, Stossel said "the issue is big versus limited government."
[S]o that in the last analysis [Machan writes] John Stossel and [guest] John Mackey were trapped in a dilemma: they either embrace a pure libertarian position in which there is no room for any wealth redistribution and public works--everything must be privatized apart from the judicial system and the military--or they have to accept the socialist health-care proposals of the liberal Democrats, better known as Obamacare, as just another task the government can take over.
But hold on. Machan is stuck in his own dilemma. If he opposes socialist health care, why does he favor a socialist judicial system and military? As he says, "It isn't the size of government, really, that is of concern but its proper scope." He's right. But why does he want a government whose scope includes the judiciary and military?

He responds, "Matters pertaining to the protection of the basic and derivative rights of the citizenry are the government's purview but nothing else, including parks, forests, lakes, roads and so forth."

This seems wholly arbitrary. What does it mean to say that protecting rights is the government's purview? Historically that has not been the case; government has been the greater killer of liberty. Rulers may have claimed they were protecting people, but that doesn't make it true or proper, since it routinely coerced innocents in the process. More fundamentally, who says that rights protection is government's--and only government's--purview? Is that carved on a tablet somewhere?

Machan might say that everything but judicial and military (by which I presume he means bona fide defense) functions can be provided in the competitive market. But that's mere assertion, belied by theory and history.

Enforced monopoly is bad for everything--except the production of security? Why?

Gustave de Molinari thought this through more clearly:
It offends reason to believe that a well established natural law can admit of exceptions. A natural law must hold everywhere and always, or be invalid. I cannot believe, for example, that the universal law of gravitation, which governs the physical world, is ever suspended in any instance or at any point of the universe. Now I consider economic laws comparable to natural laws, and I have just as much faith in the principle of the division of labor as I have in the universal law of gravitation. I believe that while these principles can be disturbed, they admit of no exceptions.

But, if this is the case, the production of security should not be removed from the jurisdiction of free competition; and if it is removed, society as a whole suffers a loss.

Either this is logical and true, or else the principles on which economic science is based are invalid...

In the entire world, there is not a single establishment of the security industry that is not based on monopoly or on communism.

In this connection, we add, in passing, a simple remark.

Political economy has disapproved equally of monopoly and communism in the various branches of human activity, wherever it has found them. Is it not then strange and unreasonable that it accepts them in the security industry?


Mike Gogulski said...

It is remarkable to me, and more than a bit sad, that even highly learned libertarians (such as, for instance, Machan) rarely manage to tidy up the essential loose ends. Subjected to an analysis like that of Molinari or many others, the foundational "necessity" of a state for justice and/or defense provision ought rightly collapse along with the rest of the superstructure.

Robert Kaercher said...

My hunch is that Stossel, Mackey and Machan are all blinded by a desire not to be labelled as "extreme." And nothing is seen as "extreme" or as kooky as being for absolutely zero government. Governments can slaughter and impoverish millions, but for some reason some amount of it is always "necessary."

What was that line Karl Hess wrote for Barry Goldwater? Something about extremism in the defense of liberty not being a vice...?

Matthew Putman said...

I am a certainly a skeptic, but not a libertarian. Still your post is very thoughtful, and I agree that there is an arbitrary, often hypocritical nature to a limited, but involved government. In fact military and protection may be more intrusive than health care, which I consider humanitarian, rather than interventionist. There is also the question of whether we have true democracy or not. My wife pointed out that since I did not get my choice in the last primaries, I was led to believe that Obama was a good alternative, when in fact no alternative existed. The false sense of freedom is a huge let down.

Gary Chartier said...

Agreed, Matthew--it's hard to imagine an institution with more potential for intrusion than the US military. I'm always amazed by people who strain out this or that welfare-state gnat while swallowing the camel that is the Pentagon. The military (along with the intelligence agencies) poses an enormous threat to the freedom and safety of the entire world. And—both because of blowback prompted by USG's military misadventures and because of the increasing willingness of USG leaders to use military and intelligence capabilities to constrain domestic dissenters—these institutions threaten Americans' own safety and freedom, too.

And, no, our political system isn't designed to give you choices—it's designed to make you think you have them.

b-psycho said...

Over time I've started to think the reason for that abrupt stop in the thinking of these types is simply how they interpret the distribution of "benefit" from the State with each power taken. A State that guards their largely artificial gains is desirable to them, while one that occasionally tosses crumbs to the rabble (despite the effective function of this as pacification from pursuing more radical means), even though it shows no challenge whatsoever to the system itself, isn't.