Jonah Goldberg: Freedom: the unfolding revolution
In a much-discussed essay for Salon magazine, Michael Lind asks: "If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?"
Definitions vary, but broadly speaking, libertarianism is the idea that people should be as free as possible from state coercion so long as they don't harm anyone. The job of the state is limited to fighting crime, providing for the common defense, and protecting the rights and contracts of citizens. The individual is sovereign, he is the captain of himself.
In the old Soviet Union, Mao's China, Pol Pot's Cambodia and today's North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That's a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard left is given free reign, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?
What's so striking about the Lind standard is how thoroughly conservative it is.
Pick a date in the past, and you can imagine someone asking similar questions. "Why should women have equal rights?" some court intellectual surely asked. "Show me anywhere in the world where that has been tried." Before that, "Give the peasants the right to vote? Unheard of!"
It's a little bizarre how the left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man's discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we're always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the "wave of the future."
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