"[T]here are, at bottom, basically two ways to order social affairs, Coercively, through the mechanisms of the state -- what we can call political society. And voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations -- what we can call civil society. ... In a civil society, you make the decision. In a political society, someone else does. ... Civil society is based on reason, eloquence, and persuasion, which is to say voluntarism. Political society, on the other hand, is based on force." ~ Ed Crane
The Real Debate
Exclusive to STR
Most of STR's readers by now are likely no longer deluded by the falsehood of the Left Wing vs. Right Wing argument. Most of you correctly perceive both "wings" as really being one force unified against individual liberty in both economic and personal affairs. However, it occurred to me recently that--even in libertarian circles--there is still a strong perception of America's overall philosophical wrestling match boiling down to Big Government Statists vs. Small Government Minarchists vs. Zero Government Anarchists. Take your pick, wait for the bell, and no hitting below the belt.
Yet, it then occurred to me that even this is inadequate to accurately describe the situation. Looking further, I think what we can truly say is that the entire debate revolves around this: There are those who believe in laissez-faire free market capitalism, and there are those who don't. Let's have a closer look at this.
Those who believe in a regulated economy, first of all, will point to the current recession as indicative of perceived flaws in free market philosophy that government--and its endless interventionist tactics--must be there to counter when necessary. Never mind that in truth such Keynesian beliefs, as libertarian Austrian School economists have long warned, are almost exclusively responsible for the current conditions--from the existence of the Federal Reserve and fiat currency inflation, to the burst of the housing bubble and mass unemployment. Interventionists will still argue: "You say we are limiting freedom. But how free is a man with no job, no home, no health care, and no retirement plan?"
This is where things get interesting. This is where the fundamental difference between those who actually understand a few things and those who don't, or won't, or can't is exposed under unerasable light.
What such interventionists focus on--or, what they like to think they're focusing on--is "compassion"; that is, using government as a catch-all tool to provide for those who fail to provide for themselves. What they are most reluctant to admit, both to others and themselves in many cases, is that in order for this to be possible, government must threaten what it always threatens in order to sustain itself in the first place: Brute force, up to and including deadly force, in order to carry out whatever its mission du jour happens to be. Squirm as they might, these apologists for government can't get around this fundamental precondition.
Some of them, at this point--many in my experience, actually--will then bare their fangs in retort, only to show the true vampire, the true werewolf, lurking beneath the seemingly mild--usually leftist--exterior mask. They will admit of advocating raw force when some mean, greedy, selfish individualist decides to resist their Marxist fantasies. They wallow in the fecal matter of their own innate hypocrisy. And they would be laughable were the legacy of their illogical zealotry not so tragic, and wholly unjust.
Try to imagine having a conversation with one of these folks back around, say, 1850 or so. You put forth the idea that slavery is immoral. They nearly jump out of their seat with outrage, stating that the economy would collapse, the cotton and textile industries would fail, no one else would give blacks jobs, and increased crime would result.
Personally, I'm not too concerned about what happens when we remove violence and coercion from a given situation. Things resolve themselves, as history demonstrates time and again. Market forces, with their endless choices and innovations, rectify inequities justly and peaceably, when not artificially distorted by governments and their guns, bombs, and other weapons. As another recent column by Jim Davies, published here at STR points out, you don't kill your customers or your employees, current or prospective. That's called bad business.
And so is intervention in a true free market. Hence, so also is the sum total of government.