[ExI] General comment about all this quasi-libertarianism discussion

Damien Sullivan phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu
Wed Mar 2 13:30:50 UTC 2011

On Tue, Mar 01, 2011 at 11:51:37PM -0700, Kelly Anderson wrote:

> approximates the libertarian ideal. Yes, today's libertarian ideal
> would not include black slaves, and would allow female sufferage,
> would use computers and a bunch of other things that go along with
> today's zeitgeist. There was no Federal Reserve, no Income Tax, no
> abused interstate commerce clause, state's rights were very strong,

What's libertarian about having nigh-omnipotent state governments?

> legal, etc. etc. All of which were moves away from the libertarian
> ideal set by the founding fathers.

Again: the Articles were even more "libertarian", if we're defining that
as weak central government.  The Consitution was a move *toward* federal
control over money, interstate commerce, military, the suspension of
habeas corpus in emergencies, establishment of the Postal Service and
copyrights and patents.

> If George Washington and friends were to pick a political party today
> (judging solely on platform, not popularity), I strongly doubt they
> would pick either Republican or Democrat. I suspect they would go with
> the Constitution Party, or Libertarian or some other similar "fringe"
> party. They were, after all, revolutionaries. There aren't many
> elected Democrats or Republicans that could be described today as
> revolutionaries.

They weren't revolutionary for the sake of revolution.  They fought for
independence from Britain in what's been argued as a very conservative
'revolution': no great upheaval in real government or way of life.  A
bunch of quasi-democratic colonies replaced a distant king and
Parliament with first a weak alliance and Congress, and then their own
President and stronger Congress.

And, as my quotations showed, some of them had latent non-libertarian
ideas.  Jefferson supported progressive income or wealth tax, and said
property belongs by right first to those who most need it and will use
it.  Paine supported inheritance tax, a citizen's endowment at 21, and a
pension from age 50.  Madison supported economic levelling, toward
equality in property.  Franklin wrote that property was a social
construct, and that there was no inalienable right to any more property
than needed to stay alive.  Which party do you think those writers would

Then there's Hamilton, who was supporting a stronger government all
along.  *He'd* probably find the modern Fed derelict in its duties.

Trying to claim support in modern times from people dead 200 years ago is
rather intellectually fraught, in most cases.  Would a Founding Father
be libertarian, because they formed a limited government?  Leftist,
because they had some private radical ideals?  Far right, because by
our standards they were massively racist and sexist?  Tangentially
appalled that we were still using the Senate, even with a 50:1
population ratio between Wyoming and California?  Humble, realizing that
times are totally different and they'd have to learn a lot first?

Tom Paine is an exception; his stated positions fall pretty consistently
to the modern left, without having to "make allowances" for his time.

One thing I point out with Adam Smith and "small government"/"free
markets" -- published in 1776 -- is that his experience of government
was entirely with a strong monarchy that handed out monopolies for
revenue and practiced mercantilism, mostly for the sake of funding wars.
>From that perspective, getting government out of the economy makes lots
of sense -- not that he ever totally advocated that.  Trying to predict
his reaction to a universal suffrage democracy, that has high
progressive income taxes but uses most of that money for public services
rather than for wars and palaces, is I think impossible; it's just
totally outside his experience.  Not to mention two centuries of
experience with pollution and banking crises.  One can say similar
things of the Founding Fathers.

(Likewise, Marx's "dictatorship of the proletariat" apparently meant
democracy with universal suffrage, and perhaps tyranny of the majority,
writing at a time when the only democracy was the US, and maybe
Switzerland.  The party dictatorship came from Lenin.  A lot of the
program in the Communist Manifesto reads like strong social democracy,
not the total central planning of Leninist states.)

-xx- Damien X-) 

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