Just a few notes on the subject of libertarianism.
Over the last two years I’ve toyed with the idea that perhaps I’m a libertarian, and not a conservative in the classic sense. The biggest reason I considered the possibility that libertarianism best described my politics (in fact, it doesn’t) is my hatred of bureaucracy and red tape. I’m not joking; my blood pressure was probably lower during Taliban rocket attacks on FOB Warrior that it is when I have to deal with bureaucracy. I get hives when I think of the hoops I’ll have to jump through just to accomplish some very simple tasks on a daily basis in the Army. The Army is a huge bureaucracy. Now, I understand the power of bureaucracy, I really do. Max Weber stated that one foundational difference between Western societies and non-competitive societies is that the West figured out how to use bureaucracy to maximize efficiency. Modern armies must be bureaucratic.
The spirit of bureaucracy seems to be that it grows like kudzu and people don’t ever seem to want to trim it back. Consider the US tax code, somewhere over 79,000 pages as of 2013 and having almost tripled in size since 1984. Conservatives and Libertarians like to focus on the tax problem, but the growing number of micro-regulations in America is astounding. Another aspect of bureaucracy that I’ve noticed is that bureaucrats tend to think of all bureaucratic rules in moral terms. Breaking bureaucratic tradition is tantamount to heresy, thus, the rules, no matter how petty, seem to become more important than people and they have near-equal moral gravity as do the 10 Commandments. A bureaucrat’s mind grows calcified and inflexible, unable to deal with a chaotic world without reference to regulation.
Max Weber points out the Wicked Problem of bureaucracy: It most definitely makes a civilization more economically and industrially powerful, yet it may, in the process, make individual people more unhappy. This is somewhat of a paradox in that the intuitive assumption is that a powerful society would create happy people, and happy people should create economically powerful states. This may not be the case. The statistics regarding Americans’ consumption of antidepressants, suicide rates, divorce and the general sense of dissatisfaction is society certainly lend credence to Weber’s dystopian view. The disturbing aspect is that our rationalized measurements of successful societies will not lead most to the conclusion that a highly bureaucratized society is failing. If Aristotle is correct, our real bottom line should be happiness and personal realization, not money or mere efficiency. Both money and efficiency are only valued in their relation to our happiness.
Another problem with bureaucracies, but one that Weber does not touch on, is that there is often no way to use logic to figure them out. You either know the rules because each individual rule is taught to you, or you don’t. And the rules are subject to change at any given moment. I have a severe problem with any system so complex that no one can know all the rules, and a system which an individual cannot use logic to figure out the system on his own. The case of mathematics, engineering, and computer science allow people to use their basic knowledge of the rules in order to find answers to more complex problems (knowing that 2+2 =4 allows one to figure out that 10×2=20; not so with bureaucracies).
And so, without diving too far down the rabbit hole, as I’m prone, that sums up the reasons that at one point I leaned toward libertarianism.
My biggest problem with libertarians is that in arguing for the rights of people to take part in certain activities, they always seem to miss the fact that many of these activities are in fact bad. Actually, they don’t miss that fact, they are only hyper-fixated on our government’s stance on certain drugs, and laws controlling so-called victimless crimes like prostitution or socially “avant-guard” activities, like gay marriage. There are other activities that fall into these categories.
When I ask a a person who claims they are libertarian if they would want their children to smoke pot, become strippers or prostitutes, or even live a gay lifestyle, they invariably respond with: “Well no, but I would love them anyway.” This of course is not the point. The point is that 99% of people know these things are not good for humans and when we stack enough victimless crimes on top of one another, it becomes pretty easy to find victims. We can argue all day about our right to snort methamphetamine, and regardless, if you regularly snort meth, you will destroy yourself and others around you. The fact that we cannot rid the world of meth-heads, prostitutes and strippers, does not mean that our central message should not be: If you’re a meth-addicted whore, you’re stupid and I don’t want you around. Period. As the apostle Paul stated: Everything is lawful, but not everything edifies.
Secondly, I think libertarians massively underestimate how fragile a civil society is, and how much the soldier and police officer keep us in peace. The state’s monopoly on violence is a necessity. One need only look to times in America, such as right after Hurricane Katrina, when for short periods of time and in limited areas, the police were non-existent. It takes a very small percentage of psychopaths to ruin it for everyone, as the Columbine incident and others show us. many libertarian complaints about American “police state” or “surveillance state” seem mostly theoretical. Instead about worrying what the NSA could do to them, as an experiment, they should try not paying their taxes for a few years. There’s no theoretical power when it comes to the IRS: They will seize your bank account and property without a warrant if you don’t pay taxes.
Thirdly, while I do like my individuality, I also know, that just as with the apparent peace in civil society held together by a thin blue line, people who work in teams and groups are stronger. A person, as an individual, even the best trained and toughest, is strained to the max in a survival situation on their own. Only bands of like-minded people can grow in areas not directly related to the procurement of food, shelter and means of defense. I believe many people tend to underestimate their reliance on those around them. That said, there is a difficult balance to be struck between individuality and the benefits of a unified group, as is apparent in the army.