Is Libertarianism’s Heart Beating in Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?

Email Print

In one part of his argument in support of State coercion to maintain a guaranteed minimum income, Matt Zwolinski cites Friedrich Hayek. He also elaborates on Hayek in another blog. Hayek wrote

“The assurance of a certain minimum income for everyone, or a sort of floor below which nobody need fall even when he is unable to provide for himself, appears not only to be wholly legitimate protection against a risk common to all, but a necessary part of the Great Society in which the individual no longer has specific claims on the members of the particular small group into which he was born.”

I will question the assumption of a single society and a single State that’s posited by Hayek and picked up by Zwolinski. This presumption implicitly forecloses freedom, free association and free societies in an argument that is supposed to be proving the merits of a guaranteed minimum income. In other words, if it’s assumed at the outset, as Hayek does, that there exists a “we” that are bound together in one society ruled by one government, then it becomes possible to argue for or against this or that particular coercion applied to everyone in that society. The specific coercion in this case happens to be taxation for the purpose of a guaranteed minimum income.

Like Hayek, Zwolinski implicitly and explicitly assumes that every person within the State’s territorial boundaries is, willingly or unwillingly, in a group from which there is apparently no escape, by secession or by any other means of free association. Hayek says this when he refers to a minimum income for everyone, when he sees it as a floor below which nobody need fall, when he refers to a risk common to all, when he refers to the Great Society, and when he distinguishes the latter from a person’s small group. It is this presumed single society over which the monopoly State and its government stand and rule. They are presumed to stand in a one to one relation with one another. Zwolinski adopts all of this.

The territorial state has resulted in a situation, which will be proven to be temporary and pass away in the pages of history, in which the state’s borders are thought to define a society. In this situation, the state makes every effort to perpetuate the illusion that its citizens are in this single presumed society and no other. It teaches that its law-making apparatus is the law. This becomes so ingrained that even scholars and libertarians who should know better fail to question it. Rome becomes the reality. Washington becomes the reality, until the costs of making this false assumption become so large that a new reality is fashioned. A society as an ordered community need not coincide with the territory of a state. Iraq and Ukraine provide recent examples that make this obvious. Rather than face the reality of multiple societies in state-defined territories, it is popular in conventional thought to bypass thinking about this discrepancy with political freedom with the idea that these are weak states. That’s supposed to stop any further questioning by blaming the fact of multiple societies on a weak state. In the strong states, we are supposed to believe that freedom rings and reigns within one society in which everyone is happy to be. In reality a strong state is able either to homogenize peoples or is built upon an already homogeneous community or creates its own peculiar order across varied communities and societies. No matter how it has come about, the state-made order is not in general the order or orders that would arise if people were free to order their communities themselves. If freedom really did ring, would we observe the states that today exist and would they have the same powers and be doing the same things? Hardly likely. The state rarely provides options for groups to disengage from it, but that doesn’t mean that our thinking has to accept these restrictions.

The point is that Zwolinski is content to suggest a coercion across what seems to be a ready-made society in order to make it into a great society, but that ready-made society has a form and status wholly dependent upon a state’s coercions to begin with. If the state’s territorial enforcements were not in place, that society would most likely shatter into a variety of clusters, communities, cities, and societies. In this light, the guaranteed minimum wage that Zwolinski is positing is nothing more than another coercive measure that maintains the pre-existing coercive state and the coerced and coercive society associated with it. This cannot be consistent with libertarianism, which looks toward freedom of association based upon a principle of self-ownership that entails wide decision rights of the individual. Surely, the heart of libertarian thought cannot possibly be beating within Zwolinski’s bleeding-heart libertarianism.

12:54 pm on June 18, 2014
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts