The 'real agenda' of libertarians?

From a letter to the editor in today's NY Times, about the Free State Project:

To the Editor:

Re "Libertarians Pursue New Political Goal: State of Their Own" (front page, Oct. 27): Elizabeth McKinstry, a spokeswoman for the Free State Project, says, "Many times government gets in the way." In this, she echoes the political sentiments of many conservatives and Republicans in addition to libertarians.

To see through the verbal mask of this ideology and discover the real agenda behind it, I recommend that citizens substitute "the voters" for "government" in all the various libertarian, Republican and conservative pronouncements.

New York, Oct. 27, 2003

Can anyone make any sense of this? If these libertarian voters are "getting in the way", how is that "seeing through the verbal mask of their ideology"? I'm not sure what his argument is, but the more I think about it, the less it appears that Mr. Diamond is even making any sort of argument at all.

I have stated my skepticism of the chances of success of the FSP before, but to my eyes, Mr. Diamond is partaking in a quintessential ad hominem: attacking the person(s) without arguing against their ideology.

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I think his point is that

I think his point is that libertarians don't only object to government; they object to the force behind government - that is, democracy. Which is true. And just because we are all taught in grade school that democracy is the next best thing since sliced bread, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to change people's perspectives by pointing out that the "tyranny of the majority" all too often violates individual rights.

Interestingly, though, the Free State Project is exactly what democracy is all about. Instead of trying to work around the system through massive campaign contributions, the Free Staters are voting with their feet - the ultimate example of grassroots organizing.

His argument is that

His argument is that Libertarians are subverting democracy? I guess that makes sense, but in a way, that argument defeats itself because as you said, the FSP is all about democracy.

By substituting "the voters"

By substituting "the voters" for "government," Diamond is begging the question. He is asserting, without proving it, the chief article in the goo-goo creed: that, as Slick Willie said, "government is just all of us working together." The writer probably still believes in a place called Hope. If he really thinks "the voters" are the motive force behind big government, he should read less Art Schlesinger and more Gabriel Kolko.

Reality is a lot closer to the "institutional elite" theories of C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff, than to public choice.

Large, centralized organizations of any kind are not amenable to democratic control. A centralized bureaucracy serves the will of those who actually control the machinery, regardless of in whose name it is supposed to operate. Those on the inside will always have an advantage in information, interest, and agenda control, over the voters they supposedly serve.

The state, as Oppenheimer said, is just the political means of coercion by which a few live off the labor of the many. The majority of society are losers by the process. All the NPR liberal rhetoric in the world won't change that.

The only true democracy is direct and local--people making their own decisions about how to run their lives, without the mediation of the "experts" and "professionals" who control the so-called representative machinery of larger-scale organizations. But this is the very kind of self-determination that Hillary, Barbra, Rosie et al have been trying to suppress for most of this century.

By equating government with

By equating government with "the voters" (which the writer hopes you'll further equate with "the people"), then libertarian philosophy is thus transformed into being anti-people. The point is not necessarily to say libertarians are anti-democratic (which can be true, such as it is, depending on the stripe of libertarian), because I don't agree that we're as inculcated to believe that democracy is the best, but the point is more the visceral "they don't like you, personally and period" message which is common fare for leftist activism. Appeal straight to the instinctual "us vs. them" and "hate the Other" reactions to get support.

That's right, Diamond is

That's right, Diamond is saying libertarians are fundamentally anti-democratic. God knows I am.

The FSP is not overtly anti-democratic, but principled libertarianism isn't compatible with democracy. Diamond is right that libertarians is a threat to democracy.

I keep getting stuck on the

I keep getting stuck on the term "real agenda." The term would seem to imply that there is some kind of nefarious conspiracy; somehow libertarians are trying to hide their "true" agenda by using the word government. She must not be too familiar with libertarian theories. I'm trying to think of any libertarian who wouldn't be just as happy using the words "voters" or "majority" as substitutes for the word government. In fact, in general, I think anti-statists use the language of the statist majority simply because they wouldn't know what we're talking about otherwise.

micha, I agree that people

micha, I agree that people get force-fed "democracy is great" arguments and that people often don't think about what it means. Libertarians typically play off the "freedom and liberty" stuff we've been spoon-fed as well (not that I disagree with it) so no fair making accusations.

Kevin, I agree with Domhoff's "elite" idea- it doesn't seem to bode well for american-style libertarianism though does it?

Also guys- isn't there sort of a marketplace democracy going on under libertarianism?

Democracy is a policitcal

Democracy is a policitcal system wherein the majority can impose, by force, its will on the minority.

One of libertarianism's basic tenets is that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation.

So, on their face, libertarianism and democracy are incompatible.

okay... so what about

okay... so what about property rights? The minority of people don't accept them as legitimate so they decide to start using your factory to make their own goods without giving you any. What do you do? Well, you wouldn't impose your will on them by force would you?

Or what about Soft Drink choices? 3 people love RC cola, but noone else does. By voting with their dollars (not that I actually buy that concept)- don't people select coke and pepsi, effectively limiting others' options?

Matt, The fact that an idea


The fact that an idea has been spoon fed to us as children does not, in and of itself, make that idea true or false. It is simply one possible explanation of why so many people believe it, even if it is the case that the idea is fundamentally unjust. I think that if more people actually thought about the implications of what democracy means, and whether or not they truly believe that the majority has the right to impose its will on the minority, regardless of any sanctity of the individual, the popularity of democracy would certainly weaken.

If you define the term democracy broadly enough, so that it includes all forms of voting, or even all forms of group decision making, such as markets, than I would make no strong objections to this form of democracy. But this is not the kind of democracy I had in mind in my previous post in this thread, nor is it the kind of democracy that most people have in mind when they use the term. We are talking specifically about political democracy, i.e. state decisions made or influenced by the (majority) will of the people.

And I agree with you that this argument doesn't do much to rebut your "what about property rights?" question; it isn't supposed to. Remember, my purpose in this thread was simply to explain the libertarian perspective that "the voters get in the way".

Or what about Soft Drink choices? 3 people love RC cola, but noone else does. By voting with their dollars (not that I actually buy that concept)- don't people select coke and pepsi, effectively limiting others' options?

The interesting thing about this statement is that, in fact, we do see small niche markets for a minority of consumers. We can buy indy music, read obscure books, watch independent movies, eat Kosher, vegan, Hallal, and Atkins food, among others, and we can do all this without imposing our will on anyone else. This is the beauty of markets, and is an excellent counterexample to the inadequacies of political democracy, where we rarely get more than two choices, if that. Interestingly, in countries where the state played an even larger role, such as the state socialism found in Russia and Eastern Europe, consumers had a ridiculously small number of choices.