Thursday, August 13, 2009

Michael Shermer's definition of Libertarianism...

... appears, of all places, in HuffPo.

Shermer, the regular skeptical columnist for Scientific American and longtime debunker of intelligent design claims, is always interesting, and his writings have always made me think he had a libertarian streak.

Here he lays out what technically is not so much a definition of libertarianism, but a point-by-point description of what Libertarian government would look like. In the libertarian spectrum Shermer is pretty close to me, which means not radical enough for a lot of my libertarian friends. I would suggest that he is more properly a constitutionalist, but his points are worth examining:

1. The rule of law.
2. Property rights.
3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system.
4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country.
5. Freedom of speech and the press.
6. Freedom of association.
7. Mass education.
8. Protection of civil liberties.
9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states.
10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state.
11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws.
12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.

These essentials incorporate the moral values embraced by both liberals and conservatives, and as such form the foundation for a bridge between left and right.

Number five (mass education) and Number seven (legislative system for fair and just laws) will be problemmatic to a lot of my friends.

Actually, however, Libertarians don't object to mass education, just a State monopoly on education. And I'm less Libertarian, perhaps, than many of my peers in that I want to drastically reform "public" education in a lot of ways, but I do not advocate abolishing it. I have written on that at length before.

As for that legislature, this is probably the weakest of Shermer's twelve provisions, because "just and fair laws" is so vague as to be a general grant of powers, without even the existing Constitutional restrictions. Shermer, moreover, punts the question of taxation and redistribution of wealth, I suspect because he know that it would not help the case he is making.

Yet, Shermer is describing--or at least hinting at--a system that is less invasive, more protective of property, and possessed of a more limited government than we now have. Which may make something like this a basis for starting discussion with the increasingly disenchanted from both wings of the Demopublican Party.


Duffy said...

Two things of note, if you read contemporary accounts of McKindley's assassination it reads as if some distant king was killed not the President. He was so far removed from daily life he might as well have been a million miles away. Contrast that with President Obama and the Gates thing.

Second, I think most people agree on the same things in the abstract (i.e. just laws, good infrastructure etc) just not how those things exist in practice.

Bowly said...

That list, to me, reads like a list of what conservatives used to claim to believe in, and why I liked them then.