Not long ago when we had friends and family over it came up that I was a political “atheist,” someone who opposed the existence of the state and wished for political power and authority to disappear so that the prosperity of the market can bring us ever higher standards of living. “I don’t agree with his theories” a family member said. Fine. This is to be expected. After all, the radical libertarian anarchist view is an extreme minority opinion. Yet the vast majority of people with whom we interact are clueless and wobbly on their own views.
At first the statist position seems to be coherent: the power of the many to benefit the few, the respect for the government, the love for law and order, the supremacy of democracy–essentially a rehash of the status quo becomes mainstream reply. Still, one must ask: what, then, dear vulgar citizen, is your hopefully coherent theory? It would necessarily have to be one that allows more or less the same things that exist now because the vast majority of folks though they complain about the details of the political establishment they don’t oppose the basics. For example, in my encounter with left-liberals I find it particularly interesting that often the primacy of democracy is seen as a goal but other times it is a means. Or when the same folks complain when people vote “the wrong way.” Over the last few years the issue of homosexual marriage has come up for vote. If the vote fails, does this mean that democracy has failed? Rarely (or, at worst, barely–there is still support for that institution). What if the courts fail to recognize that issue as a right? Should courts be abolished? Nah, they will say–more political action and education is needed, or reform the court. Most of the remedial proposals have to do with changing not the underlying system (the one that nonetheless perpetually frustrates everyone) but to change everyone and everything else.
Legislative matters like gay marriage is just one issue. Going deeper, things become even messier. How does one measure the value of the good that a piece of legislation imparts on society? What if that good is a bad for some? What if the good is not as good for everyone to the same extent? What if people change their minds? What if they change their minds right after an election? Were it subject to quantification, what if one person has 100 units of displeasure and 99 people have one unit of pleasure each? How can we measure the greater good? What is “the” good? These might seem contrived questions, and yet they are the core of it all. Not only is the mainstreamer advocating and justifying the existing system in a vulgar, offhanded, manner but also insisting that the social and economic calculations necessary to bring about general prosperity can be performed. And regardless of whether such a calculation is possible, the fact that the advocate of the existing system so vehemently opposes the libertarian view while barely offering a sensible grounding shows intellectual laziness. It is the equivalent of saying “this is what exists, therefore it is what should exist.” As the saying goes, LOLWUT!?
I am reminded of what Murray Rothbard once said: “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” In my opinion Rothbard’s sentiment applies to politics as well.