Atilla Sulker | United States
The world of libertarian thought is far from being insufficient in regards to ideas. Interdisciplinary scholars have emerged all over the world with a vast interest in this doctrine, and have built upon the works of such great scholars as Rothbard and Mises. Rothbard himself was, in fact, an exponent of Mises, and to this day, thousands of great minds continue to carry the torch and bring a plethora of new and fascinating ideas to the conversation.
One could say such ideas are far more dense than those of mainstream thought. They provide a fresh basis for solving various problems in the world, rooted in the old classical liberal tradition of private property. It is from this foundation that so many new ideas have been derived. Whether it is libertarian applications of chaos theory or Walter Block’s privatization of oceans and space, a clear causal link can be seen between such ideas and property rights.
But the main problem in contemporary libertarianism is not the lack of good ideas. There are indeed plenty. It is not even the disunity between so-called “thin” and “thick” libertarians, or any factions for that matter. It is rather the means to the realization of the desired ends. Libertarians today have great ideas for the ideal free society but seem to be lacking when it comes to finding a means to implement such ideas.
How Should Liberty Be Spread?
I have always viewed this area as the hardest to deal with. It is not the development of ideas that is troublesome- it is outreach. Just how do libertarians spread their ideas? How do they do so without tainting their ideas with a populist gloss? To what extent must libertarians work with people from other political leanings? What is the proper outreach model? These are the fundamental questions one will end up asking themselves when trying to solve this dilemma.
There is no doubt that up to this point, libertarianism has grown significantly. What was once seen as a movement for those on the fringes of society now receives significant attention, especially following the presidential campaigns of Ron Paul. A change of heart and mind has occurred in many people already, but beyond this, the leviathan state continues to tighten its grip on our property, and consequently, our liberties.
Trying to get “freedom candidates” elected has been the traditional method that libertarians have been pursuing for so long, whether under the banner of the Libertarian Party, or in the form of electing populist, or libertarian-leaning Republicans. This phenomenon is the heart of why libertarians are struggling to bring forth political change. It is very much evident that the flaw is not necessarily in the efforts espoused by libertarians, but rather in the methodology, i.e., the idea that we can “vote our way to freedom”.
This is a deeply flawed view. While this does not necessarily invalidate the concept of a night watchman state or a decentralized constitutional republic, if it is actually carried out properly, it trumps the idea that the current state of affairs can magically be reversed. Robert Higgs’s ratchet effect theory clearly underscores this phenomenon. The Higgsian doctrine asserts that once a major crisis is over, government will shrink, but never back to the level it was at before the outbreak of the crisis. Hence we are all like the frog waiting in the boiling pot.
Data put out by the IMF shows that before the U.S. committed to being involved in WWI, less than 2 percent of GDP was public spending. After the war, the lowest public spending sunk down to was around 3.6 percent. Following the Great Depression and WWII, public spending came down to a level of about 14 percent, but never got any lower than this. A classic representation of the ratchet effect.
Is Voting Really a Solution?
The question becomes- can we really vote our way to freedom? Have we traveled too far into the void to repeal the leviathan state? The U.S. national debt is already 21 trillion and continues to grow. We have become more than a leviathan state at home, but also an empire abroad. It would be foolish to think that this could be reversed gradually with the stroke of a pen. And electing so-called “freedom candidates” does no good unless elected en masse. Cherry picking certain races to work to elect such candidates has little to no effect on the legislative process.
I had the opportunity to ask Lew Rockwell about this at the Mises Supporters Summit earlier in September. My question was along the lines of this: “Can we vote ourselves to a smaller government via electing “freedom candidates”, or do we need to scrap our government completely and rebuild political society from scratch?”. Upon answering, Rockwell described voting as a “sacrament of the state”, proclaiming that it is not the answer to our freedom. Rockwell then cited Hans Hoppe, stating “the wider the franchise, the more people voting, the less freedom there is.”. He closed off his remarks saying “ as a country, we were far better off when people had their own property… now everybody can vote, we have a leviathan state, and these are not unconnected things.”.
DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University Randall G. Holcombe did an excellent study on the gradual democratization of America, and its drifting away from its roots of constitutional republicanism. Holcombe cited the changes in the electoral college and the growth of populism in the Jacksonian era as the chief causes of the gradual shift to majoritarian rule and consequently, the decline of freedom. It is democracy that relies on voting, and democracy is far from liberty. Democracy has lead to the rise of mass scale, “national pork barrel politics”.
This is not to say that is it fallacious to vote for or support a candidate who may have good qualities. To see voting as a solution to the current state of affairs is an expression of great naïveté, but it can still be used as a tool to numb the pain, so to speak. The role of running for office or getting elected can be used as a bully pulpit position.
Regardless of this, the collapse is imminent. This is not to be an open invitation to further the growth of the empire, however. Where the leviathan state can be curtailed, it ought to be, if the opportunity becomes apparent. But it would be foolish to think the empire could be curtailed to such an extent as to enact a clean repeal.
Collapse as an Opportunity
It is with this mindset that one can begin to deduce a better solution to the problem of realizing libertarian ends. Though it may seem counterintuitive, perhaps the solution is not to vote our way to freedom, but to wait for the eventual collapse. Only then will there be a vacuum for libertarian ideas to be injected into. This vacuum is indeed the best solution, but for libertarians to prevail, they must make sure to fill it when they have the chance.
Spreading the ideas to fill the vacuum is by no means a spontaneous process. It must be done before the vacuum is created. It is the prevailing mindset of the population before the collapse occurs that shall determine how the vacuum will be compensated for. If the mindset preceding the collapse is one of socialism and dicta, then the vacuum will be filled with such. If the mindset preceding the collapse is that of neocolonialism and empire, then the vacuum will become compensated in such a way. In this same way, if the mindset is that of liberty and voluntarism, the restructuring of the political society will occur in favor of such principles.
Crane Brinton’s great work, The Anatomy of Revolution, underscores the causal connection between political change and prevailing ideas. In his book, Brinton compares the development of a revolution to that of a fever. He lays down four stages: 1. Incubation; 2. Symptomatic; 3. Crisis; 4. Convalescence. The incubation stage is that of underlying causes coming into contact with the political apparatus. The symptomatic stage is that of political struggle becoming observable and evident. The crisis stage is the breaking point, i.e., the collapse of the empire. And the convalescence stage is the recovery from the crisis.
The model does not necessarily have to be violent. It can be assessed and applied in such a way that it may be able to guide a peaceful revolution of ideas. We are well past the first stage and are in stage two. The problems associated with the leviathan state are very much evident now. The breaking point will be the collapse, but for libertarian ends to be properly realized, libertarian ideas must become more widespread first. The prevailing attitude of the public will ultimately determine what will happen following the crisis stage.
The 1917 Russian Revolution and the 1910 Mexican Revolution well exemplify the prevailing passions of the public determining the course of political society. It was the prevailing attitudes of the Russian public which lead to the crisis of the February and October Revolutions. As Lew Rockwell explains: “The Russian war itself was funded through money creation… the inflation affected every last person and inspired massive unrest that led to the triumph of Communism.”.
Ron Paul delivered some excellent remarks in regards to this issue at the September Mises Supporters Summit. “I just don’t think that the answer is in Congress and voting”, asserted Paul. “I don’t believe we’re gonna have, all of a sudden, an influx of libertarian-minded people”. “I think there’s gonna be a collapse. I don’t think we’re gonna transition out of this”. “It all depends on the education and changing people’s minds”.
Preparing for the Collapse
To wait for the collapse and expect change all of a sudden would be naively foolish. The second part, the education aspect, is integral. For if the prevailing attitude of the public is not changed, no political change can be expected. This is why organizations like the Mises Institute which focus on education rather than public policy are very important to the success of the libertarian movement. The prevailing attitude must become one of free markets and voluntarism before the collapse occurs. And as of now, it is beginning to lean towards socialism and economic interventionism. This is why libertarians must walk away from the political box for good and focus on education. They must shed light on the injustices of the leviathan state and the destruction the Federal Reserve is inflicting. They must underscore the lack of economic calculation under socialism as exposed by Mises. They must underscore the causal link between empire and socialism at home.
At the September Mises Summit, I had the honor to meet Louis Carabini, founder of Monex Precious Metals. Carabini released his new book Liberty, Dicta, and Force very recently. It is indeed a masterpiece. A truly “red pilling book”, so to speak, it connects the libertarian conscience to our daily acts of volition and voluntarism, and to the workings of the human mind. What the book fundamentally asserts is that it is foolish to have faith in the political process. All politics does is turn us against each other when in our everyday lives, we get along mighty fine. When government is factored into the equation, using force against each other is justified. In our personal lives, we would never justify using force against our neighbors, even if it were for benevolent causes.
It is perhaps the abandonment of the political process that will end, or at least significantly relieve the “thick-thin” libertarian debate. Personal views will simply be personal views, not horizons for political change. Libertarians will be able to unite under the banner of voluntaryism and leave personal beliefs to themselves.
Only when the prevailing attitude of the public yearns for liberty and when libertarians abandon the political box will there be hope for the liberty movement. Only then will the human will be set free.
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