Reason's realpolitick

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Reason's piece on what Libertarians get wrong about American history is, well, quite reasonable:

Libertarians naturally sense that their philosophy will be easier to sell to the public if they can root it in America's heritage. [...] The problem arises when libertarians cherry-pick confirming historical anecdotes while distorting or ignoring deeper disconfirming evidence.

The piece candidly asks, "Where are libertarians likely go wrong when it comes to history? And answers "By and large, it's in presenting American history as an essentially libertarian story." While their view "contains grains of truth," it continues, there's more to the story:

Advocates of a unified nation under a powerful central government [...] eventually arranged for the Federal Convention in Philadelphia, where the Constitution--the acknowledged purpose of which was to produce more, not less, government--was adopted. The libertarian Albert Jay Nock called the convention a coup d'etat because it was only supposed to amend the Articles. Instead, the men assembled tore up the Articles, crafted an entirely new plan that included the powers to tax and to regulate trade, and changed the ratification rules to permit merely nine states to carry the day, instead of the unanimous consent required for amendments to the Articles. [...]

One would expect a "government" that lacked the power to tax and regulate trade to be of more interest to libertarians. One would also expect libertarians to be suspicious of plan to address those alleged deficiencies. Instead, the Articles typically are shunted aside and the Constitution is lauded as a historic achievement in the struggle for liberty. That is odd indeed.

I think we can explain this lack of interest in the Articles by noting that it fits poorly into the mainstream libertarian narrative about America. After all, it would be hard to praise the Constitution as a reasonably good attempt to limit government while acknowledging that it replaced a political arrangement under which the government could neither tax nor regulate trade. In that context the Constitution looks like a step backward not forward.

He links militarism to mercantilism, and eventually makes a concession to realpolitick:

You cannot build a continental empire and a worldwide political and military presence without planting the seeds of powerful government at home, a national-security state, and all that they require, including income taxation, regulation, central banking, and a welfare state to ameliorate the worst hardships of the system's victims, if only to tamp down radical resistance.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on April 12, 2015 9:15 AM.

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