26 April 2008

The Essence of Government

Further to my previous post, I have come across this piece from last week by Jim Henley, also dealing with the problem of how libertarianism can make a practical difference.
I think libertarians are, rather, the court jesters of politics. I mean that in a good way. We whisper to Caesar that that he is mortal. We caper about, turning ourselves blue if necessary, reminding everyone that government power is inescapably violent and inescapably self-interested. You’re probably not going to care, but we’re going to make you actively decide not to care. And sometimes, maybe you’ll care after all. As a class, we can be stupendously silly people, believing and saying the most absurd things. But our rulers are silly people too, in different and more malignant ways. And as fools, we have the freedom to say so.
I think he's right, and if he's right about America, the same is even more true of Britain, where libertarian ideas are that much further from the mainstream.

The problem is that all politics is based on a lie: that the essence of government in a democracy is to serve the people, and that political questions are about how best to serve the people.

In fact the essence of government, in a democracy or elsewhere, is that the strong enslave the weak. What democracy provides is not a different essence, but, by the mechanism of dividing the strong against each other, a situation where the strong enslave the weak much less effectively. The point of democracy is to provide ineffective government, which is a good thing.

So if the debate is about what the government should do to better serve the people, then I am a libertarian (indeed now a Libertarian), and will bore my victims to death talking about lower taxes and more flexible markets and civil liberties and the rest of it. But the policies I complain about are usually not imperfections in our servant, the government. They are the reality of our master, the government, sticking out through the bars of the cage in which it is restrained.

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