Imagination Constraint

When groups of libertarians get together one of two things happen.  Either we start discussing What Needs to Be Done, i.e., how do we gain traction, or we start debating ideological margins, like what degree of anarchy would be ideal.

Now.  I am not interested in anarchy.  But it’s true that honing ideas requires some play at the edges of constraint.  And truly when the goal is Smaller Government, there’s no way to hone ideas without at least acknowledging that less government means more governance through individuals, which need not look so much like Lord of the Flies as my cautious heart fears.

There are two paths to finding ideological edges.  We can either start from Point Now or from State of Nature.  Starting from Point Now entails looking at how deeply the Powers at Be are entrenched, how the situation on the ground behaves in practical effect, and how we can roll backwards from here.  Alternatively, starting from State of Nature means that we imagine a sort of naked Robinson Crusoe, adding communitarian elements without regard for how things entrenched to a more realistic, constrained Point Now.

The two approaches become interesting when we look at how the unconstrained version of Enhanced State of Nature — the post-imagined Robinson Crusoe — reflects the current state of affairs.  For instance, even the most government-shy libertarians believe there should be some sovereign body exerting pressure on fiscal policy.  At Point Now, however, we complain about the entrenched, impractical Fed.

Formalizing the social contract does require compromise in the direction of inefficiency.  Men have been social animals since even before we made that apple-d switch to “sapiens” (who was it who said that men are not so much social animals as it is that we’ve discovered the benefits of comparative advantage and free trade?).  The question cannot be whether some action or agreement is best at the margins of this moment.  Instead, we must look ahead to which investments promise best returns.

What’s interesting about the “anarchy” thought experiment in the US is that we’ve done it.  It wasn’t so long ago that a group of dudes sat around and debated how to protect freedom in a real way.  Granted, what “freedom” means may have differed at the margins between Hamilton and Madison.  But in a real way our founding fathers attempted to explore the freedom question from a state of nature, absent imagination constraints, and THIS is what results.

When today’s libertarians describe private structures resembling nothing so much as the Fed and insurance stacks, I can’t help but wonder whether a freer polity could have gone any way but this.  Even the waxing and waning of individual rights — never so well demonstrated as in the comparative Bush/Obama policies — are a sort of required political institution, without which we would never remember what to protect.


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