Robert Higgs on “Libertarian Wishful Thinking”

I highly recommend this post by Robert Higgs at the Independent Institute. Higgs challenges one of the most pervasive myths among libertarians, the idea that liberty’s triumph is impending due to the rise of libertarian ideology. As Higgs explains:

Here [in the contemporary West] nearly everybody is held tightly in the system by countless seemly beneficial ties that few people can imagine doing without: Who’ll send grandma a monthly check to keep her in groceries? Who’ll provide medical care for the scores of millions of lower-income people whose care now comes via Medicaid? Who’ll cover the huge medical bills the elderly now expect Medicare to pay? Who’ll subsidize the college loans on which millions of students rely? And so on and on. One has only to wade through the Code of Federal Regulations and ask on each page: if this particular regulation were scrapped today, how would its corporate and union beneficiaries react? Can one really imagine that these powerful institutions would simply shrug their shoulders if liberty should break out, after having fought for more than a century to forge the fetters that now bind the populace in the service of almost innumerable special interests.

This is an incredibly important point. All too often, libertarians think that simply by spreading libertarian ideology, we will achieve a libertarian world. But in light of the incentives that structure our lives, this is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense. It’s particularly frustrating in that it contributes to many libertarians focusing just on developing propaganda and scholarly works rather than participating in concrete action. I think it’s one of the main reasons for the stereotype that “anarcho-capitalists only exist on the internet” and one of the main reasons that so many libertarians have such weak theories of strategy. If we are going to undermine the state, we need to understand its structure and act in a way that challenges this structure. My understanding of the state’s structure leads me to embrace dual power tactics. By building grassroots community organizations, radical unions, worker cooperatives, boycotts and divestment campaigns, and other alternative institutions that meet human needs outside the state or take business away from institutions that have a symbiotic relationship with statism, we do far more to undermine the state than making speeches, films, or blog posts ever will.

That said, I do disagree with some of what Higgs writes. He asserts, “the time for liberty lovers to make a stand that had a fighting chance of success was a century ago.” I disagree. The time is now. We have a real chance to strike a blow against the state and the empire. Higgs is right that libertarian optimists are naive and misguided. However, that’s because they believe we can win with ideas alone. We need to build the new society in the shell of the old, not just talk about it.

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