A while ago I wrote about the issues of pragmatism in politics. Planning the second part, I ran into a serious dilemma: I could not find the proper alliterative title. I thought of words starting with p to indicate this is a second part of a previous post, but I found none. Redux does not really work but r is sort of like p…
But enough of my personal failings. Let us once more grab pragmatism by the balls… My first post was not a critique of the concept of pragmatism in itself – this can be a different story – but what I called pseudo-pragmatism. This is basically completely ignoring principles and the multitude of problems with many politicians in the name of so called pragmatism, leading descending spiral of corruption and incompetence which is not in any way “pragmatic.”
This led me to think, get the old rusty cogs turning among the cobwebs. Where is the place of pragmatism in libertarianism? Can we find it some room of its own? The answer to this depends on who you ask. Because, otherwise, libertarianism would be thoroughly boring.
I thought about expanding on the issue by analyzing pragmatism and ideology, not pragmatism and every day politics. Because I believe that an ideology which is not at least somewhat rooted in reality is mostly pointless, and basically not that better than utopian communism. It is quite easy – as the corpus of fantasy literature shows – to imagine all sorts of things and put them in words. Something that will actually work in our world – and not Middle Earth – is more difficult.
Now, given there are 10 different opinions for every 9 libertarians, I assume few will agree to what exactly constitutes pragmatism in ideology. But, as many of our little talks around this place are in agreement, let’s get controversial.
The main issue is: to what point can you bend a principle in service of being pragmatic, before it ceases to be a principle? Some would say not at all, slippery slope and such. Others would try to define some minimal leeway in it. Another way of viewing things is: can we design the principles to be pragmatic? My island experiment post was an attempt to start from some basic premise and define some principles, while keeping an eye on reality.
So let us dive in the deep end… I see two types of political discussion. One idealistic, how we would like things to be in perfect universe (cough anarchism) and another what is a good enough ideology for the world we live in – presently, not 500 years from now or in some post scarcity utopia and/or dystopia. My answer is along the lines of minarchism plus, a form of limited government, free(ish) markets and personal liberty, enabling for each a life as close to what they want as can be.
Now, I am all for talking anarchism for the sake of an interesting debate, but after a point, we need to get back on Earth Earth and see what has a chance in hell of working. What is not impossible, but merely highly improbable? Anarchy? Yeah… no. Minarchy? Probably not true minarchy. Reasonably limited government? Well that is a very long shot maybe. Which, in the end, we might never live to see, but I am saying there is a chance.
To clarify, by working, I mean something that allows the individual to live and thrive. Feudalism was stable for many years, but I would not say it worked. Certainly not for the serf. One out of 100 people in a harem may think it is working. Somewhat anarchic Zomia worked a while, only if working means hunting, gathering, swidden agriculture and almost no capital accumulation.
While this may or may not be possible, I am trying, against the modern trend, to find principles as objective as possible, otherwise it becomes a quagmire of subjectivism and feels. So I am trying to think of some basic guideline of organizing a political entity. This is not necessarily fully libertarian, but something that maybe can appeal to a slightly broader demographic.
We can dismiss out of hand ideas that would work if humans were different. Humans have a certain nature, respond to incentives and are not some sort of altruistic angels. Teach murderers not to murder is not a viable idea, certainly not pragmatic in any sense of the word. Due to the problems associated with putting humans and power in the same room, I will say outright that no ideology without some clear limits on state power can function.
As I believe that, quite objectively, humans are unique individuals, I believe any system needs to focus on individual human rights, not collective ones. A system must not sacrifice individuals – which are obviously a real entity, you can touch them if you want, as long as the sign the consent form – for the sage of a vaguely defined society – which may have a function as an abstract concept but does not really exist. Neither tyranny of minority or majority must rule.
A functioning country must have some level of stability. A revolution every two years is not sustainable. At the same time there must be a way to change whatever “leaders” there are. Whoever is in a position to wield tools of coercion – police, justice, taxation, regulation, whatever – needs to be held accountable and have some skin in the game. History shows that when leaders can act with impunity, nothing good happens.
So is socialism right out? Socialism was always right out. I never got the whole socialism would work if humans were better. If humans were better, it would still not work and anyway there would be no need of it. There is no situation where socialism is needed or desired. We can dismiss democratic socialism. It is lipstick on a pig, trying to add the veneer of legitimacy by the democratic part.
Any form of dictatorship or monarchy should be excluded – this can rarely exist with accountability. A monarchy can be ceremonial at best. Any form of democracy must not lead to mob rule and must be restricted by the fundamental rights of the individual, as history can show us how people were often mistreated by bad laws that had the support of the majority. Excessive centralization is not desirable. This reduces accountability and skin in the game. It concentrates power and it makes corruption easier. It makes the coercive institutions distant for the individual.
Economically, for better or worse, say what you will of the tenets of small government decentralized republics, it worked some. Yes, there was graft and government imposed monopoly and protectionism, but keeping government somewhat limited meant these could not mess things up to much. And when the state grew too much, there were always problems, even in the Swedish paradise.
Socially, the main problems were brought by putting the so called collective over the individual. There are no clear models in history for ways of organizing that did not do this. Monarchies, republics, dictatorships, theocracies, capitalism, socialism they all wronged people. The solution is simply extending laissez faire economics of small government to the non-economic issues. I do not believe in social and economic division of freedom. They are either both or neither.
Now what are my principles? Well I believe rights are individual and that peoplekind [hupersons?] are social beasts. As such, living together, various conflicts appear. The core role of government is solving or mediating these conflicts in a fashion which best preserves said rights. There is an individual sphere – what is inside is none of societies damn business – and a common sphere – which is basically interaction of individuals, and the main issue with many forms of government is bringing into the common things that are individual. To take a small example, there can be a case for common involvement in health when it comes to contagious diseases e.g. quarantines, but not when it comes to broken legs.
Believing in non-anarchy, I believe there is some taxation needed and this, in my view, is where I bend the principle some libertarians hold of taxation is theft / extortion / whatever. So to get to the actual point, basically the single land tax is a good idea, is where I am getting at.
Anyway I think this topic can go on and on and as such I want to take it to the comments section… So how do you like your principles, fellow glibs? Medium rare or blue? Not cooked at all? Discuss …