February 20, 2007
In my country, the Conservative Party is one of the traditionally dominant political parties. One of the great Conservative Prime Ministers was Benjamin Disraeli, who, apart from being a politician, was also a noted writer. In one work, named Sybil, he spoke of:
"Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets: the rich and the poor."
In essence, Disraeli was offering a warning to his society, specifically in regards to socio-economic polarisation. According to Disraeli, the differing socio-economic classes should not be wholly separate and the rich and the poor should co-exist in harmony. So the "two nations" of society should coalesce to form "one nation." In this instance, this is what the phrase "One Nation" (as detailed in the title of this piece) means. This issue is something I have been pondering for some time. Is economic equality really something of value? No, don't worry, I'm not turning socialist. Still, in my personal estimation, I feel that an excess of economic inequality can potentially undermine social cohesion.
Think about it for a second. If you were amongst the lower classes within a society, and the overwhelming majority of wealth was concentrated amongst a tiny few, wouldn't you feel disgruntled? Wouldn't you feel that the system wasn't benefiting you? Of course, as market anarchists we value self-ownership above all else. Nonetheless, it is possible that a person's socio-economic position in society can determine one's chances and opportunities in life. If one form of equality is "more libertarian/market anarchist" in nature, then surely equality of opportunity must qualify.
The "Two Nations" and market anarchy
Standard libertarian reasoning, in regards to the poorer elements of society, is that free markets, plus the abolition of regulations on industry, would enable a greater generation of wealth, hence aiding the socio-economic status of poorer people. I do not dispute this at all. Nevertheless, I feel an important role can be secured by the voluntary/community sector within "libertopia," especially in regards to creating harmony between society's "two nations."
Presently, I work for an organisation within the voluntary/community sector. As the name suggests, the sector is comprised of volunteers who seek to enhance the welfare and wellbeing of their community. With the absence of an inefficient and incompetent welfare state, the voluntary/community sector would possess a more prominent role in aiding the less wealthy elements of society in 'libertopia.' So how would voluntary groups play a role in limiting inequality?
In a stateless society, an individual or family facing financial difficulty or hardship could approach a voluntary group to seek assistance. In this instance, let us call voluntary groups Neighbourhood Social Welfare Organisations or "NSWO's' for short. Once a person has approached the NSWO for support, a number of options could occur. The NSWO could offer temporary loans or grants to people as a means of providing poorer people with a steady income. It may also donate food, basic household items and other things which are necessities to most. An NSWO could also offer funds for business start-ups. As mentioned earlier, a free market would grant poorer people the opportunity to enter business and create wealth for themselves. After all, help often does come to those who help themselves. Essentially, NSWOs would offer all of the services which are today administered by the state. Of course, the fundamental difference is that such organisations would be funded on a voluntary basis. Naturally, no governmental force would be required in order to finance the maintenance of an NSWO in the stateless society.
Libertarians and attitudes to inequality
OK, yes, in Disraeli's day, Western societies were probably more economically polarised in nature. The existence of a "middle class" has only really been so since the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Nevertheless, Disraeli's message is, in my view, an important one. It would be a gross shame for us to achieve a stateless society for it all to crumble as a consequence of an inequity of income. If one is being honest, most libertarians seemingly don't give a hoot about the nature of economic equality within society. Personally speaking, I don't entirely concur with such an attitude. Of course, self-ownership is the fundamental basis of liberty. However, one's self-ownership can be furthered if we have our basic needs in life met. A wealthy person is freer to live his life in accordance with his own values and wishes, over somebody who always worries where the next meal is coming from. In my opinion, libertarians in general should place more thought into how the poorer sections of society can be aided within "libertopia." All people should hold the possibility of furthering themselves in the free society.