Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Limited government vs. democracy

Libertarians have objected that they're not anarchists -- they don't want to eliminate government, they just want limited government.

Some thoughts.

  1. If the majority of individuals do not support the actions of the government, the only way to impose those actions upon them is at gunpoint.
  2. The majority of individuals in America have decided that they like a large number of so-called Big Government programs like OSHA, Social Security, and so forth.
  3. Thus the only way to do away with Big Government is by overturning democracy and forcing the elimination of those programs at gunpoint.
It's all a matter of, who decides?. In democracy, the majority decides, and the majority in America over the years have decided they want and like Big Government. Every time there is a disaster or crisis, the cry "there ought to be a law!" goes up, and lo and behold, shortly there is.

In Libertopia, a minority that wants limited government decides, then imposes their will upon the majority at gunpoint. Because that's the only way you can impose a limited government upon people that want Big Government -- at gunpoint, by preventing them from electing their own to office. By, in effect, becoming the Ayatollahs of Libertopia.

Even the founder of the Libertarian Party, David Nolan, admits that only 16% want the limited government that Libertarians advocate. Meaning that the only way to do it is at gunpoint -- the Pinochet way, complete with helicopter flights over the ocean where dissidents are pushed out of aircraft after their stomachs are slit open so they won't float back to the surface where they could be found. Now, what do we call a minority imposing a government upon people at gunpoint? You might call it tyranny, I suppose, or fascism. You think? And lest you think I'm being a bit hyperbolic, Libertarians have a long history of applauding fascists like Pinochet who impose limited government at gunpoint.

How many thousands would have to be killed to impose Libertopia upon America? Libertarians never seem to answer that question. Apparently they believe the magical Liberty Pony will deliver Libertopia upon a population where the majority don't want it, and magical unicorns will shit sparkle rainbows that convert everybody to the Libertopian religion. But that's not this reality, where the majority simply aren't buying the limited government sparkle pony -- just look at the approval ratings for Social Security and Medicare, the epitomy of Big Government programs, both of which are astonishingly popular (roughly the same 16% that David Nolan mentions above are the only ones who want Social Security and Medicare eliminated, if you do the surveys). In short, the notion of Libertarians winning a majority in a democracy are zero... which, of course, is why the Libertarian Cato Institute recently hosted a debate stating that Libertarianism is incompatible with democracy and has appointed one of Pinochet's ministers to a major position in their organization. Because in the end, Libertarianism simply isn't compatible with democracy, because in a democracy the people, not a small elite, decide the limits of government -- and the people have, by and large, decided they want a government decidedly NOT limited.

-- Badtux the Democratic Penguin


  1. the founder of the Libertarian Party, David Nolan, admits that only 16% want the limited government that Libertarians advocate. Meaning that the only way to do it is...

    ...by convincing more people of the follies of such things like the War on Drugs, the Patriot Act, and maintaining an empire with troops scattered across the world; and thus electing officials that support those stances.

    Seriously, you've gone from claiming that Libertarians are no different than anarchists from claiming that Libertarians can only choose an armed revolution rather than have discussions with other voters in order to persuade?


  2. Amother great column, Badtux. Joseph Cannon wrote a at length on Libertarians and the Salon article also, in which he compares, and rightly so, libertarianism to fascism. Are you guys related?


  3. No, Purple, I'm just pointing out the central paradox of Libertarian thought -- that the only way to get the liberty of the limited government that Libertarians want is to take away the liberty of the people to select the big government that they apparently want (given that, worldwide, not a single democracy has ever voted to return their government back to 1776, even the Teabaggers raged "keep your government hands off my Medicare!").

    Take, for example, the War on Some Drugs. Neither of us are fond of it. The problem is, a majority of Americans still support it. So here is my question: Is it moral or right for us to impose our will at gunpoint upon the majority of Americans and force them to give up their cherished War on Drugs? Or should we instead attempt to educate them into voluntarily giving up the War on Drugs in favor of some alternative that obtains the same purposes? What is the Libertarian answer to this question? You appear to say "education", which is the same answer I arrive at for this, but the answer is going to be Big Government either way because the only other answer possibly acceptable to the majority in a democracy would be to treat drug addiction as a medical rather than criminal problem, and that would require even bigger government than the criminal justice system -- probably an entire government-run national health system (which, as an aside, is why nations that criminalize only sale of heroin but not use of heroin tend to be nations that have a government-run national health system). Are Libertarians willing to live with that reality of life in a democracy? Curious penguins are... curious!

    - Badtux the Democracy Penguin

  4. Just to clarify:

    Drug addiction is a horrifying problem that overwhelms the ability of families to cope. Thus simply legalizing drugs, and all the drugs that an individual wants to use, will not happen in a democracy. There will be at least some restrictions on sales, and some way of handling the problem of drug addiction other than "let the family handle it." Big Government, in other words. A democracy's solution to the War on (Some) Drugs is Big Government, just in a different form. You're okay with that, I'm sure. :).

    - Badtux the Democracy Penguin

  5. Hahaha. That reminds me of an essay I once read by Peter Theil where he said that one of the great obstacles to a libertarian utopia was women's suffrage. You know, because women tend to vote for things like regulations to protect their children and other social programs. What a tool.

    But, FWIW, most of the libertarian types I know either want to work within the democratic process to persuade people to come to their side and/or all move to New Hampshire in order to create a majority there to control things at the state level. (One of them actually has even moved to NH). Or they want to build platforms out on the ocean where they can live out their libertarian fantasies in peace. I always chuckle at that idea because I think Peter Thiel is involved with that whole Seasteading project and I can't help think that once all those white dudes like him get out onto their platform, they are going to be a little bummed out by the lack of women because I don't see it as being the kind of place many women I know would like to live.

  6. Libertarianism is no mystery. It's just fascism dressed in a suit.

  7. the answer is going to be Big Government either way because the only other answer possibly acceptable to the majority in a democracy would be to treat drug addiction as a medical rather than criminal problem

    I don't agree that offering help to those who desire it would be anywhere as intrusive as the current policy is.

    Unless you're talking about forced treatment for anyone caught using the various banned substances & herbs. Then of course it would just be other side of the same coin. It's often been said that Republicans want to lock drug users up in jail, while Democrats want to lock 'em up in hospitals. I personally don't think that the vast majority of people who use "drugs"...be it marijuana, tobacco, booze, or even cocaine...need to be forced into either a jail or a clinic.

    Some restrictions on sales...especially in regards to age requirements...for adult substances are reasonable and not considered "Big Gov't" by anyone but the most fanatical. But blue laws that prohibit sales of adult substances on certain days and hours is a fine example of the gov't overstepping their bounds.

    Biggest problem with changes to the War on Drugs is that a lot of people have a "Reefer Madness" type of mentality when it comes to "drugs". I beleive that discussing the issues openly&honestly is an effective way to counter that type of thinking.

    But all that is just a tangent. The main thrust of your post...that the only way Libertarians can see any of their desired policies enacted is via violent means...is one of the most twisted things you have ever written.

    Would say the same thing about other groups that are pushing for policies/laws that have never been enacted before by our democracy, or is this type of vile only reserved for those Libertarians?

  8. In my line of work, I see a lot of people addicted to drugs. It's a miserable way to live. Really more of a way to shorten the addict's miserable life. At some level, even a subconscious one they can't admit to themselves, they know that's what they're doing. If drugs were legally free to acquire in a Libertarian paradise and widely available (thus cheap) the addicts would still be miserable. It's their personalities (and mental illnesses) that cause the problem. In Libboworld, they'd just kill themselves faster.

    That said, if I was king of the world, I'd order a triple-combination Libertarian/Socialist/Fascist approach to the drug problem.

    Libbo -- make everything legal.

    Socialisto -- have the government grow the stuff and give it away -- FREE! -- to everyone who wanted it. It would be part of socialized health care. To get it free, you just sign up as an addict.

    Catch is, once you signed up as an addict, the legal drugs would be ALL you'd get. No detox, no doctors' visits (unless you paid out of pocket), no hospitalization. "You've got an abcessed arm from an infection because you used unclean technique when you were shooting heroin? Here -- have some more heroin. Or this cocaine. Rub a little on the oozing flesh before you snort and it won't hurt so much. Good luck!"

    Fascisto -- this would result in a whole lot of people dying. I don't like people much. The world needs fewer of them. Less people, more turtles, is the way I'd like it. The pop's going to drop during the Peak Oil Century anyway. Might as well let the low-hanging fruits eliminate themselves voluntarily.

    Unfortunately, as Lynne noted, mothers and other people with more empathy than King Me would frown upon this LibboSocialiFascist approach. Not likely to be rolled out with the consent of the people. Which is why you'd need a heartless bastard of a dictator to ram LibboWorld down our throats.

  9. Libertarians who believe that a small government would be anything other that a dysfunctional government in a country the size of ours should try living in Somalia for a couple of years before they make any changes; they probably won't like it as much as they thought they would.

  10. How many people have to die before protecting them becomes a function of government?

  11. Jerry, Libertarians never answer that question. I've asked it. They just shout "Freee-dom!" and ignore you.

    Phil, while there are some Libertarians who claim Somalia has done better without government, by and large Libertarians say "but Somalia is anarchy, not Libertarian, we want limited government, not no government!" When you challenge them to point to any place on planet earth where limited government works today, they hem and haw and point to some time prior to the automobile, airplane, telephone, etc., and if insist "Today, dude, today!" they hem and haw some more and point to the economic freedoms in Singapore and Hong Kong -- economics freedoms, I might add, that are enforced by vicious dictators. Which is sort of my point here, that the only way that will happen, given that the majority of people world-wide apparently want Big Government, is via a vicious dictatorship imposing it at gunpoint.

    Bukko, I sorta addressed your point. Drug addiction to "hard" drugs like heroin and cocaine is hard on the families of the addicts as well as on the addict himself. You will find no better advocate for harsh laws against drug dealers than a member of a drug addict's family, and in a democracy such laws will be passed, regardless of any "limited government" mantra. Unless, of course, you prevent legislators from passing and enforcing such laws at gunpoint.

    Purple, the articles I linked to either quote Libertarians talking fondly of vicious dictatorships such as Pinochet's that enforced Libertarian economic ideology at gunpoint, or are by Libertarians themselves expressing disappointment that democracy seems incompatible with Libertarianism, even to the extent of declaring "Democracy is a means to an end. If another form of government is better at protecting liberty, choose it." Since the alternative to democracy (rule by the majority) is tyranny (rule of the majority by a minority at gunpoint), take it up with them, not me.

    - Badtux the Busy Penguin


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