Now, that I told you that more democracy would make the world worse off and no democracy is not a good idea, you must wonder: what is the answer?
I will try to make the point that the answer is less democracy which, on the other hand, we cannot have without a wide reaching democratic consensus.
My last two posts had clearly negative tones as my goal was to argue that those approaches to creating a better world were wrong and possibly even dangerous. I hope the positive message of this one will be appreciated, but I will still have to start with a critical point to lay the foundation of my argument.
There is nothing natural about natural law
I know that saying this will put me at odds with many libertarians, but it is an essential part of my arguments.
Laws are notions. Rights are abstractions. They cannot exist without social interactions. It makes no sense whatsoever to talk about the rights of the rabbit versus the fox or about the laws governing the rights of Robinson Crusoe. Rights and laws cannot exist without a social and cultural context. They cannot be discovered, they cannot be articulated, they cannot be understood outside a social and cultural context. The formulations of the notion of natural law as we understand it today are all derived from a long Anglo-Saxon tradition and emerged in a historical context. Simply stated, our perception of justice is practically inseparable from our culture.
The best formulation of law and justice as I think it should be understood is that of Hayek as it is expressed in the second volume of Law, Legislation Liberty.
Laws are the articulated expressions of what the members of a society consider just. What makes English Common Law superior to other legal systems is the recognition of this fact. This conception also allows the laws to change with the changing attitudes of society, which also means that there is no universal law, ‘natural’ law, absolute truth and absolute justice. There is truth and there is morality, they are just not objective and not absolute.
Any time we refer to our culturally defined ideas as something bigger than the confines of our culture, we are trying to elevate the moral standing of our culture relative to others. When the Muslims say that the laws of Islam should be obeyed because they are ‘divine’, they do the same: projecting their cultural values. Without going too far into the discussion of this very important subject, let me stop short with some points relevant to this discussion:
- Justice is not absolute but culturally defined.
- What we consider just is evolving with our cultures.
I have to add a few of my own believes:
- I do not believe in revolutions and I do not believe in miracles.
- As a libertarian I believe in the moral superiority of the non-aggression principle.
- Liberty is not a static end-point but a direction.
Adding these up must lead to the conclusions that:
- The libertarian dream can only become a reality if we can build it into a movement.
- We can only win if we can make libertarian principles and ideas appealing to a democratic majority.
The question then is:
How to do it?
The ONLY real alternative to revolution is the gradual erosion of the power of the state.
One possible way is through offering creative policy ideas with wide ranging appeal to achieve that goal.
We cannot get there by electoral reform. That will do nothing to the party, nothing to our image, nothing to our prospects of spreading our ideas.
Withdrawing from politics into tiny circles of the likeminded, burning bridges, DeFOOing and hissing at anyone deviating from the orthodoxy will not do it either.
Our aim should not be a rigidly defined utopia, but a walkable path to freedom.
If we agree with Jefferson who said that “The government is best which governs least” we must also believe that every step moving us in that direction is a positive one providing positive and hopefully measurable benefits.
In politics, they say, one should define or be defined.
We have an image problem. We emphasize too much individual freedom, personal rights, private property. We should shift our focus and rhetoric to the common good showing how these things are not ends to themselves, they are just the tools to create a better world.
We have to walk away from the image of the contrarian individualist and start championing the image of the public benefit minded reformer. We have all the right ideas, we just have to start presenting them the right way, a way that can resonate with a wide range of people.
We have to make clear what we stand for and what we stand against.
We stand for the freedom of choice, competition and cooperation, we stand against Coercion, monopolies and redistribution.
But most of all, we have to make clear to everybody that we are not revolutionaries, we will not start with the abolishment of the state, we will not do any of the vile things our opponents are projecting onto us; we just want to improve the world for all of us living in it.
We can start doing that by offering creative ideas for reform and by policies that are encouraging natural development in the world driving us toward freedom.
Novel ideas get more attention than regurgitated mantra.
What amazes me the most in the AnCaps rejection of the political process is the lack of imagination.
The sectarian disagreement between the Minarchists and the anarcho-capitalists is about the three institutions the Minarchists consider legitimate: The military, the police and the courts.
Now let’s take a look at reality: The justice system is in a bad shape in every developed country. Slow, expensive and excessively bureaucratic but there is a growing option of private alternatives. Civil litigation is slowly walking away from the government run justice.
I met some people at a party who are civil contractors for the military up far north. I was told that when it comes to serious technology, just about everything is outsourced. Half of the American war in Iraq was fought with mercenaries. While ultimate decision making is still centralized, the monolithic nature of the institution is already changing.
In rural Ontario, small towns have the option of paying the Ontario Provincial Police or to set up their own police force. It is only a step from there to allow private security firms to offer their services in rural communities. Encouraging these developments, removing the roadblocks from the possibility of competition can be achieved through creative policy suggestions.
These are the most foundational issues of libertarianism and even these can be pushed in the right direction toward a more free world.
We can, of course start supporting well known ideas such as school vouchers (pointing out how well they work in socialist Sweden); private pension plans (referring to their success in Chile) or subsidy-free agriculture (as it worked in New Zealand); flat tax (as seen in countries too numerous to list), but we should also try to take on other government institutions such as suggesting political penalties for proven government waste, civilian oversight of Police work, Health care accountability in the form of an invoice for every medical service provided (with a yearly summary with your tax return); making every public servants income a public record and we could go on. I will in upcoming posts explore some ides but I hope you already get the point. The point of these ideas is the potential wide appeal, the possibility of exposing government waste and overreach. The only limit to the possible creative approaches to policies that can bring us closer to liberty is our imagination.
All of these efforts, all of these ideas should point toward choice, opting out, opening the possibility to competition, or just simply exposing the waste, the incompetence and the harm done by the bureaucracies – preparing the ground for the libertarian policy answers.
While my belief is that the only way to save democracy is aggressively limiting its scope; I also believe that there are many ways to improve it, mostly along the lines of Milton Friedman’s suggestion:
“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
Even when considering Dave Meslin’s ranked ballot initiative, understanding his concerns about participation and the way the political machinery functions; a number of alternative ideas could be offered:
- Introduce term limits
- Make recalls easier
- Set up qualifying conditions for candidates as suggested by Preston Manning
- Set up disqualifying conditions for politicians and bureaucrats (such as supporting a project with a more then a predetermined percentage of budget overruns)
- Allow NOTA on the ballots.
I will expand on all of the ideas above in future posts.
Unfortunately, no matter how good these ideas may be, just like our core ideas, they will not get far without a strong support base. The last thing we need to do is building that base through strategic alliances
The political left is doing an amazing job creating wide coalitions for their causes. We should learn from them.
We need to build bridges instead of burning them. At just about any libertarian event we see representatives of organizations that are not exactly libertarian but they represent people who are very passionate about some problem that is very likely to have a libertarian solution. Landowner’s Associations, civil liberties organizations, taxpayers’ federation, smokers’ rights etc. etc.
We should be constantly talking to such organizations making the case that we are the best chance they have. We should urge every one of those organizations to promote our party to their members. Any civic organization, any association should be open to the libertarian message.
WE ARE the political party for all of these issues, all of these organizations. We just have to demonstrate to them that we are a credible political alternative; we have to use them to broaden our base and spread our message; we have to become the focal point of their cooperation.
Although we need to build a movement, not just a political party, is building a viable new party such an outrageous idea? It is happening all the time, all over the world. Although the Tea Party is not an official political party, it almost has the power of one. When I came to Canada, the Bloc Quebecois did not exist. The reform Party came and went. Wild Rose is a new party. UKIP, which everybody either laughed or sneered at just a few years ago is now well positioned to make significant advances at the next election. Building a new party is not impossible.
The fact that libertarianism is the most principled, moral and rational political philosophy around is clearly not enough to make it successful. We have to sell it with a better image, using appealing policy suggestions with the help of a broad based coalition.
The only question left is:
What are you going to do to make it happen?