Friday, August 2, 2013

The Libertarian Impulse

What is behind it? Where does its energy come from? Could it come from total gridlock—the inability of the collective to do anything at all? To view the libertarian impulse as arising from principles, from a philosophical stand, would seem to be unfair. Humans are so obviously a social species that libertarianism, taken to its ultimate expression, becomes rationally incoherent. It is much more accurate to see this impulse arising because the collective has ground to a halt, can no longer act—although it ought to. And then the healthy impulse is to find some other level where action may still be possible.

This thought arose as I read a profile of Thomas Massie in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Massie is a freshman congressman from Kentucky, a leader of the radical right, a young man of obvious technical and entrepreneurial talent and vigor—and married to a lady of matching traits. One of his exploits, replacing a defective water heater at the Lewis County, KY jail—by buying a used one on e-Bay and installing it himself, saving the county $6,500 in the process, is told here and illustrates the tendency.

One of my own more memorable insights into social change came from studying the French revolution—and never mind its bloody and half-insane political flowering. It’s the background where the insight was hidden. France had become paralyzed over centuries, had become a frozen place, a collective that no longer functioned. You could not go from one county to the other—just to cite one example—without buying enough salt to last you a lifetime. Travelers, of course, could not buy and carry so much salt in actuality—never mind across three county borders—but the purchase of it was necessary anyway—and had to be paid, or lesser bribes forked over to avoid it. Napoleon’s true achievement was wiping the slate clean, once and for all—of this and many other insane laws that time and custom had imposed.

Politics is just the most visible surface marker of things going on deep down in a society. The libertarian impulse, therefore, is a healthy one—one reason why, sometimes wondering about our own reaction, Brigitte and I, who are communitarian in orientation, that word underlined, sometimes agree with the likes of Rand Paul and Thomas Massie.

No comments:

Post a Comment