What do people think of this point that if you're not willing to haul someone off at gunpoint for something then it's not a legitimate concern of the state? For the life of me I can't understand why everyone is so impressed with this blog post. Kevin Williamson starts out whining about a dissenting letter to the editor in The Economist. He then goes on to say that if you won't use violence for something the state shouldn't do it.
That seems absurd. Violence is an extreme recourse, even for a state, isn't it? What about private citizens that own guns? Ultimately, when the cards are down, they'll put someone at gunpoint to get something they want. It's an extreme reaction and it's a reaction that they rarely engage in, but ultimately the use of violence is the ultimate defense and enforcer for a private citizen, is it not? That's why we have the Second Amendment - so the government can't weaken that absolutely essential method of recourse. But you don't say "if a private family isn't willing to get something at gunpoint they have no business doing it". Kevin Williamson is suggesting that the law of the jungle is all there is and that we should judge institutions by the absolute most extreme action they might take. What a poorly reasoned argument!
Why don't we talk that way about private citizens? Why don't we say that private citizens should only be doing what they're willing to defend at gunpoint? Because we live in a society governed by contract, institutions, and norms of behavior. That's what allows us to transcend the law of the jungle. The thing is, the government exists in that society as well. Indeed, with the police force and the courts the government is part of the vast web of emergent institutions that make things like contracts possible.
Kevin Williamson's intellectual sloppiness reveals one of the biggest problems with modern libertarianism: it's obsession with "the state". Nobody talks about government more than libertarians. Why? Because they see it as some sort of alien institution rather than an emergent institution. They think about the state categorically, that blunts their arguments, and they sound ridiculous in the process and don't even realize it; instead, they think stuff like this is deep and insightful.
This is the problem with "road to serfdom" type thinking as well. As soon as you let this piece of categorical confusion in "the road to serfdom" follows easily - it's not exactly a tough argument to piece together. And you get people like Kevin Williamson sputtering about social democracies and Economist letter writers: "Well, bully for northern Europe and journalists with anecdotes! It’s not as though gunpoint politics has no history in Europe: Wait for the next all-European war and let me know how the Dutch and the Danes do."
Now he's just sounding like a garden variety conservative. I'll acknowledge good libertarian arguments when I hear one. There's a lot about the state that cannot be defended and I don't try. This isn't one of those good arguments and I'm baffled that so many people are linking it favorably.
Austrian Revival Photos
1 hour ago