James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Car of State

I have three doubts about the Libertarian Party.

For starters, if its platform is not "radical" by today's standards, then it is not libertarian.

Second, if the platform remains radical, and the people generally agree with it, its libertarian principles would already be reflected in the two major parties.

Third, we can't really have it both ways. If Libertarians win office, what would they do, govern, or abolish the government? Presumably, a little of both. To even be a party and run candidates is an acknowledgement of the system's legitimacy. What would a Libertarian governor do in a crisis, stick to his principles or use the resources at his disposal to address it? Let's say it is a budget logjam with the legislature. Does he compromise and agree to sign a budget with many "unlibertarian" programs in it?

It's a hard question, but deserves an answer. Here's mine.

Politically involved libertarians should act like avid bicyclists and mass transit advocates who hate cars. The scenario is, there are no bicycles, buses, or trains, and you have just one car available to you, one you did not choose, for your entire lifetime. You might not like it, but you have to use it at least sometimes, and take good care of it. Think of the analogy "Car of State" rather than "Ship of State." This is not an ideal world, and we're stuck with the State, and so will our children and their children, even if we don't like it. We'd have no choice but to take care the car, to hope it runs well for as long as possible, and spare it from overuse or reckless adventures.

In such a scenario, whose judgment would I trust? Those who worship the car and trust it always, provided the drivers have good intentions? Or those who take it for granted, thinking it inevitable, believing its designers virtually to be as wise as gods, and who ridicule all other options? Or those do not like it, and resent the fact that we have to depend on it seeing that in many ways we'd be better off without it, but look after it out of necessity?

I'd trust the third group, who may not like the Car of State but will take care of it out of necessity. I believe they would actually govern better than those who love and idealize government. With no emotional attachment to the car, and no faith in it, they would better foresee which roads it can not travel, which speeds it ought not reach, which collisions it can not survive, which gasoline (and other fluids) are best at the affordable price.

Can the Libertarian Party "go there," without alienating much of its activist base? If not, then the LP ceases to be a real party seeking governing power, and activist libertarians would probably spend their time better advocating responsible policies within one or both of the two major parties.

It may be argued that to even take care of the Car of State is a sell-out of true libertarian principle. On the other hand, many, me included, are not crazy about the kind of disruptions that would occur if the federal State suddenly collapsed. I desire that people live peaceful, tranquil lives, and political disruptions are not conducive to that. If we ride in the Car of State, I'd rather keep the motor clean and the ride comfortable, and not run out of gas or get into wrecks.


  1. We could also "trick it out" with a jacked up whiskey runner back end and spinners. Maybe put in some hydraulics and a novelty horn. Don't forget the "fuzzy dice of state" for the rearview mirror and the "bobble head dog of state" for the back window. And a kick ass stereo with a powerful bass would be good, too.

  2. Nice analogy. I'd add that such an anti-car car owner would be constantly looking for ways to minimize his dependance on it: finding a job and shopping closer to where he lived, organizing a carpool with his neighbors, etc.

    As much as I agree with the Rothbardians on the exploitative nature of the state, most of the time I don't count myself among those who'd "push the button." No matter how illegitimate the state is, its sudden disappearance would result in utter carnage. Anyway, most would-be button-pushers admit that the state isn't going to disappear all at once, so it's a moot point. The question is how to pressure it into scaling back, introduce non-statist replacements for its functions so as not to leave a vacuum, and generally how to manage its demise with the least mess possible.

  3. I agree that having the state disappear overnight would be a problem, but one we are unlikely to have to address. What we have, though, is the "Tractor trailer of state" when a Cooper Mini will do. I don't think we would have carnage if, for instance, the US Departments of Commerce, Education, Energy, or a number of other agencies disappeared overnight. Any number of functions could be reduced and consolidated with no impact except to the displaced bureaucrats.

  4. Good analogy, although I kinda like "ship of fools" better.

  5. I don't disagree with any of you. I'd add to Vache's first post, that if we lived in a monarchy, I'd love to have a King who jacked up the car but otherwise left us alone. That'd be far more fun then the dour seriousness/hypocrisy of republican rulers.

    Let me put it this way: what if the libertarian "end game" or "utopia" however you want to imagine it, just isn't possible? People just can't and won't be persuaded?

    That's a real possibility. Libertarian triumph is a matter of faith. Statism may be a scientific reality. Libertarians may be psychological "freaks," even though they are well aware that freedom, not coercion, is the engine of progress.

    In that case, we do not need to seek a better world for humankind, but a better world for the libertarian minority, who will then carry the rest of humanity on their backs. This doesn't necessarily mean abolishing the State, it mean lightening the load - making the State less burdensome.

    That doesn't require getting rid of everything all at once, it requires rational policy, which - from a purely Machiavellian perspective - demands realism instead of idealism.

    Libertarians who are not pure anarchists basically want less government involvement in our lives, from taxes to regulations to war. The same holds for Machiavellian politics, which values prudence above all moral considerations. To keep the State strong and healthy, it recommends that it doesn't over-extend itself.

    This means that libertarians can support prudent statists. And shouldn't be discouraged from doing so out of fear of failing a test of purity and dogma. Seize less government and greater freedom whenever and whereever you find it.