Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
-John Adams: Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798, in Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull (New York, 1848), pp 265-6
The Libertarian Turn to the Alt-right
There is an interesting turn within libertarian circles towards the “alt-right” in terms of accepting some of their claims about strong correlations between racial/ethnic composition and the prevalence of a particular civic order, i.e. libertarianism.
It is not so much about libertarianism giving up their system for alt-right ideologies but rather the recognition that libertarian culture and civic forms are contingent upon the character of the people who compose it, and that without the correct characteristic a libertarian order simply cannot be realised. So far we have Vox Day move towards “libertarian nationalism” and even the Calvinist International has weighed in on the libertarian support for strong national borders.
I wish in this post to make my own contribution towards understanding this development in libertarian thought, a development I would argue is rooted in the Hobbes-Locke dialectic in the Anglophone social contract tradition.
Are Markets Natural and Inevitable?
I have in another post critiqued the idea of markets as a natural ordinance rather than a social artefact. I do not intend to rehash the arguments but simply to note enough of the problems to motivate the discussion in another direction.
The trouble which libertarians generally have is that they are ambiguous about whether or not free markets are a social artefact, maintained by particular contingent human decisions and actions of a specific custom or law, or is it simply a description of how people do in fact behave “naturally” like how the planets revolve and the tide comes in.
If markets are mere descriptions of how human would behave naturally, that is, free market behaviour just is how people do actually behave, then whatever human do just is the product of the free market and they can’t complain about the present state. The problem is that libertarians generally do not think that the free market simply describes how people behave, they do often argue that many economic systems and behaviourial patterns are the product of “distorted” market forces or “crony capitalism” and that the market fails to obtain in these situations. However if there is such a thing as “crony capitalism” or distortions of the free market by political forces or other human decisions, then the market isn’t a natural ordinance which will just happen anyway, it is a social artefact maintained by contingent human actions and decisions. Ergo, the market can only exist and function properly only if a certain type of civic order, culture, or political character prevails to ensure its proper working.
The Maintenance of a Libertarian Order
If we grant that property rights do not simply maintain themselves, nor are property claims self-evidently demonstrable in every single instance, then we must grant the existence of courts of law to resolve disputes of property claims and rights, to manage tort, etc. We must also therefore grant the existence of a legislature to create such courts, to pass laws specifying the extent of property rights (e.g. you can own land but not slaves, you can contract labour but not lifelong servitude or your organs, etc), a police force or the use of arms to maintain these property rights against those who would violate them and “steal” from others. And if we grant the necessity of a police force, and even a military, to protect the property of the people, then we must grant the existence of commanders or rulers of these armies or man of arms to make sure that they enforce the law and abide by the law.
So it is quite obvious that even to recognise, adjudicate, and enforce property rights an entire civic system is required to make these happen. The men who pass laws to recognise and circumscribe property rights, who apply the laws in particular cases where they are in doubt, who enforce the law when it is violated, and the population who respect and adhere to these property laws, all of whom need to be men of a certain character, men who believe, respect, and understand the libertarian system and are sufficiently disciplined to adhere to it.
However if the libertarian civic system itself can only be realised by men, then its realisability is also susceptible to the waxing and waning of mankind. The obvious problem is that concentration of wealth or capital in the hands of a few will grant them power to influence those who are supposed to guard the libertarian civic order. The institutions and officials who guard the libertarian civic order themselves will require resources and power to do their work, which makes them vulnerable to other power sources which could undermine them. If, say, to attain and maintain political office requires an increasingly astronomical amount of capital start up, then naturally the guardians of the libertarian order will themselves be captured by those who possess the critical mass of capital to finance their political campaigns and their ability to attain and maintain their political office. And once the politicians are beholden to those who possess the wealth, then they would naturally start altering the civic system to favour those with accumulated capital and cease to maintain the libertarian order. “Crony capitalism”, so called, becomes inevitable if we allow for capital accumulation.
The decline of the libertarian order doesn’t only happen from the end of the politicians, it can also be pushed by the populace themselves especially when they view the present distribution of wealth to be fundamentally unjust or are generally dissatisfied with the present state of affairs. The libertarian order is as much maintained by the political guardians of it as by the people who adhere to it. The police cannot control everyone, if a large amount of people revolt against the libertarian order because of extreme poverty or perceived injustice or high ideals, then the politicians would have no choice but to give in to them.
Thus in some paradoxical way, the maintenance of a free market economy would require the break down of concentrations of wealth to prevent the political system from being captured by these other agents possessed of capital power.
To summarise, the free market economy is itself not free, it costs an entire constellation of political institutions to be maintained and a sufficiently well satisfied populace to obey it. However does free market economics factor in the cost of maintaining such a system?
The Hobbesian Insight of the Authoritarian Center as the Guardian of Liberty
It should be obvious that we need the men who guard the libertarian order to themselves be powerful enough, and rich enough, to resist the forces of capital that they might fairly and impartially maintain liberty for all man, and not just for those with wealth. The Leviathan who guards liberty must also be iron-souled and powerful enough to subdue the populace should they demand the abjuration of liberty in aid of some demand of theirs. This is essentially the insight of Hobbes.
The social contract tradition ironically has its origins in the authoritarian political system of Hobbes. Hobbes’s basic idea is that people contract to give up their liberties to the Leviathan which covenants to protect their life and liberty on their behalf.
What many do not understand about Hobbes is that he didn’t only require a centralised authoritarian power to keep selfish and evil individuals in awe of the government and to force them to obey the law. Hobbes in fact identifies another source of disorder in the body politic and that is in righteous and idealistic high mindedness, which leads to a willingness to overturn the present civic order in pursuit of those ideals. Hobbes discusses this point in relation to the puritans who believe that the advancement of the Kingdom of God or divine righteousness will require overturning the civic order (as he witnessed first hand with the English Civil War). The problem is that people may agree with the abstract principle of the right to self preservation or property, however people do disagree as to how such a principle is to be applied in particular cases or the implications of such principles. Thus when people form rival conceptions of the good and the just, they begin to see the present arrangement as fundamentally unjust and begin to agitate against the present civil order.
According to Hobbes therefore, if people are not to kill each other, or loot or steal from each other, there must be a strong authoritarian power, not only to use force to scare selfish and self-interested people into obeying the law and respecting the rights of others, but also to resolve and adjudicate disputes about what is just and good that the liberties of other may not be trampled in pursuit of some idealistic quest to correct perceived injustice. Remember, if the authoritarian state is to defend liberty, it must not only be able to resist the selfishness of the rich and powerful, but also the idealism of the middle class and some of the poor. People has to accept that the central authority’s judgement and legislation on what is just and respectful of the rights of others is fundamentally fair, or even divinely approved.
To recapitulate our argument, the libertarian civil order requires political enforcement and adjudication. In order for the enforcers of the rules of the game, so to speak, to do this impartially and fairly, they have to be powerful enough to resist those who are subject to the rules of the game but who maybe tempted to use their power to rig the game. As a principle of the law goes, no one may be a judge of his own cause. This would require a strong authoritarian power which possesses substantive power in its own right to gather the resources necessary to maintain such an order as well as be seen to possess legitimate authority over the various parties involved in its judgement and adjudication of the application of libertarian principles.
An Analysis of the Racialist/Nationalist Turn in Libertarian Thought
Libertarians cannot fail to notice that their ideas do not command the assent of the wide majority throughout the Anglosphere, even less the world. Despite years, if not decades, of arguing their case, they are no closer to persuading the majority of Americans of it nor of seeing it being realised.
America itself is a great experiment in the attempt to have Locke without Hobbes. Thus they have the ideal of the libertarian order, but no real conception as to how it is going to attained or maintained. All they have is the culture of persuasion and a sort of Millian confidence that the innate superiority of their ideas will somehow win the day in the free market of ideas and command the assent of the majority of the populace leading to political change and policy effects.
This however has not happened and does not seem to be happening any time soon. American libertarians therefore have an explanatory gap in their political ideals. Why has their ideal failed to command the widespread assent of the majority of Americans? Given the innate abhorrence of Hobbesian authoritarianism amongst Americans, they simply cannot imagine that the authoritarian use of force or a strong central government is necessary for the defence of liberty. Since they reject political action as necessary to realise libertarian ideals, they are haunted by some vague idea that libertarian ideals should sort of simply “naturally” arise out of humanity. (Thus the strange dialectic amongst libertarians as to whether or not free markets are a social artefact or a natural ordinance.)
Unfortunately free market ideal has not in fact arisen out of the majority of Americans. This begs the question as to what exactly has gone wrong. Eventually it dawned on libertarians that there must be something wrong with the kinds of people itself who resist libertarian ideals. They are not WASP or white people. It is not a controversial observation that libertarian ideals mostly obtain amongst white people, or Anglos in particular. The controversial leap of inference however is that this correlation becomes a necessary prerequisite, that the culture of white people, or even their race, becomes the necessary precondition for the realisation of a libertarian order, and that maybe other cultures, or even the genetic disposition of other races, are incompatible with libertarian practices. When libertarians see, for example, masses of immigrants races vote for welfare redistribution policies, they cannot help but infer that libertarianism maybe contrary to the DNA of other races and ethnicities. They begin to believe that if the remnant libertarian tradition of America is to be saved, they have to first stem the flow of immigrants or alien cultures tearing down that very tradition.
The Fault is not in the Genes but in the Ideal
The British jurist A.V. Dicey argues that despite England being known for the rule of law and the home of personal liberties, England was never the home of constitutionalism. The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, where the legislative powers of the Queen in Parliament are unlimited and unrestrained, is a core doctrine of English law. Here we see both Hobbes and Locke marvellously combined, English liberties defended by a sovereign parliament.
What the nationalist/racialist libertarians fail to understand is that any political ideal or vision will require the enforcement and support of positive power. They want to believe that somehow the failure of libertarian ideals being realised has something to do with genetics or culture because it should have just miraculously pop up without the need for political action, support, or enforcement. While they might have a point about the necessity of culture to support a libertarian order, it is difficult for a culture to be sustained without political support.
As Zizek himself have noted, both capitalism and anti-capitalism has its origins in the West. It cannot pass their notice that libertarianism is mostly grasped by a certain socio-economic class (the middle class mostly), and normally those of very high intelligence. The problem of course is that the bell curve of intelligence is a reality. Not every is nerdy enough to be inspired by something as abstract as libertarian freedom or order. For the vast majority of people, the civic order must not only be efficient but also be legitimate. People need a reason to obey the laws, to accept the present distribution of resources, and the judgement of the law courts in adjudicating disputes in property claims.
The problem is that libertarians tend to avoid the question of legitimacy. They think that people will accept a libertarian order as soon as it is explained to them, and if they don’t get it, there must be something wrong with their genes or their culture. It remains to be seen whether or not libertarians will ever make the Hobbesian inference of the necessity of positive power to defend a libertarian order.
Conclusion: Corporate Governments, the Future of Libertarianism?
This is why some libertarians have argued that monarchial arrangements to be conducive for a libertarian order. A monarch is simply one property owner amongst other property owners, as a personal corporation or agent, the monarch himself enters into contracts and covenants with other parties, thus seemingly embedded into the “natural order” of fair interpersonal dealings. The monarch isn’t some overarching micromanager of all the affairs of the country. However the monarch is not just one party amongst other but the primus inter pares or the first amongst equals. While he operates under the same order of interpersonal dealings and exchange, the monarch substantial possessions or positive power however gives him both the right and the duty to defend the rights of his subjects when it is infringed, and adjudicate any disputes which may arise amongst them. Thus the concentration of power here is immediately burdened by a responsibility to use it for the common good. The monarch thus provides security services for the defence of the liberty of his subjects and law courts for the adjudication of disputes which arise among them, and more importantly, a monarch’s judicial decisions is hallowed with sacred legitimacy because that decision flows out of his personal dealings.
There is unfortunately a LARPish quality to trying to revive the idea of monarchial legitimacy. The sense of divinity and innate reverence for sacred persons no longer prevails to any significant extend in most parts of the world today. Is there an alternative to monarchies today?
The closest idea has been to revive something like an East India Company like monopoly corporation which can actually command armies, provide security and engage in trade. In other words, one simply replaces the monarch with a board of directors. The legitimacy of the corporation will simply be a function of its ability to provide concrete goods of security, stability, and wealth. It is often said that Singapore is run very much like a corporation and perhaps our success can be replicated elsewhere. If the goal of the corporation is to maximise the productivity and wealth of a certain locality, then it seems that their goals would help bring about the prosperity and welfare of the land while doing so through contracts and other interpersonal dealings. (Here’s an interesting example of how the Firestone company managed to contain the Ebola outbreak on its rubber plantation village.)
The problem of course is that the goal of maximising the wealth and productivity of the land can very easily collapse into the goal of mere capital accumulation to the detriment of the people who work on the land. However perhaps there is simply no defence to the caprice of our rulers and we can only pray to God to give us good ones.