Monday, October 11, 2004

A Little Bit of Faith for the Government (BUT JUST A LITTLE BIT)

A few days ago, Dr. Boudreaux posted this article about lessons he teaches and will teach his son. You gotta love Don for his honesty but I have to ask if his professorship of libertarianism for nearly twenty years has somewhat clouded his opinion of the state (and if you’re one of three of our regular readers, you’ll know that means a lot coming from me).

For example Don says, “…winning elections requires a measure of deceitfulness and Machiavellian immorality that no decent person comes close to possessing.” There is no doubt in my mind that there are the a great many wretched people in government—especially people who pursue office—and these people have a higher propensity to win elections but to say that winning one requires a selling of your soul goes too far. Politicking isn’t inherently bad—it just vulnerable to it. Furthermore, people in government, for the most part, are good people and really want to make the world better. They just don’t know that, for the most part, they are doing just the opposite. Not trusting them is one thing (I agree with Steven Brill: “skepticism is a virtue”), calling them names is another. The best way to make the world better is to treat the pro-governments with a mixture of respect and suspicion; not shake your fist at them whenever they walk by.

Don continues with his attitude of the army: “If he is ever asked to die for a government that claims a monopoly over his allegiance, he should politely refuse.” At least he’s learning to be polite and I agree for the most part: if government ever asks me to fight for them, I’d decline. But there are exceptions and these exceptions need attention. National defense, after all, is a public good and therefore subject to the free rider problem. Now in most cases this isn’t a problem because military interference in other countries isn’t something we should be doing anyway. But if there’s an enemy at the border and invasion is eminent and every hand and heart is needed to ward off the attack (as in society itself is in danger), then there’s a case for the draft.

Granted, this is a sticky issue. If there was a libertarian army that was razed in, say, Canada and marched into the US, determined to release its people of the overbearing government of Washington, I’d probably let them pass. But if the socialists raised an army in Canada (far more likely), I’d hope that everyone in our country would raise the flag of war. Now, I don’t like war and I avoid physical confrontation whenever I can but to say that you should always refuse the request to fight for your country sets a precedent that is more likely to do more harm than good. National defense is, after all, one of the few things libertarians think the government should do. Why not, in this extreme case, encourage people to enable them to do it the best they can?


Chris said...

Well, I disagree with you strongly here David on the national defense issue. Right now, I want to set aside the issue of whether "national" defense is a public good problem and focus solely on the statement that you made concerning the draft. As your hypothetical example illustrates - with Canada as the enemy with a foot soldier army ready to swarm into the United States - then the only persons affected by this would be those with property in the U.S. that abuts the Canadian border. These persons could easily defend their property against invasion either personally or through private security insurers. There is no need to coercively force other citizens of say Texas or California to defend the property of citizens in North Dakota or Maine. Now, if Canada were planning a massive nuclear attack that would affect the entirity of the United States, than perhaps your situation would be more suitable; yet to suggest that a national draft is something that should be resorted to (instead of intermediary methods such as deterrence and disarmament) seems highly un-libertarian to me.

Tim said...

David, I'll post a summary of "Democracy: The God That Failed" in the near future. Hans Hermann-Hoppe details his take on the issue of public defense - his latest work is entirely dedicated to it. Check it out on, man.

By the way, I'm not sure if Rothbard would have fit your characterization of libertarians.

Chris said...

Yeah, Tim, I'm actually reading that right now.

Mike said...


For a man who speaks so highly of property rights as the solution to free rider problems, I find it interesting how willing you are to resort to force to solve this issue. Allow me to present a slippery slope argument here: when we suggest that in the case of national defense the problem is serious enough to warrant the use of force, we open the door for similar arguments. Certainly, the poor and starving people need your money; we need a "draft" of it to give to them. Certainly, everyone would be better off with medicine: you should pay into the national research fund.

Ultimately, your argument allows the government to decide that my interests are contrary to the national interest, and proactively re-align my attitude. I wouldn't claim to speak for libertarians at large here.