The Right Coast

February 21, 2004
Wilkinson on Ideal Libertarian Theory
By Mike Rappaport

An interesting post on ideal libertarian theory by Will Wilkinson:
    Like Rawlsian liberals, libertarians often mistake fairly indelible features of social reality for contingencies, thereby overshooting anything that might serve as a feasible ideal.

    No one should be convinced that anything approximating a Nozickian or Randian minimal state, much less, Rothbardian anarchocapitalism, is worth taking seriously unless it can be shown that these theories are compatible with what we know about history and social psychology. Debating whether voluntary mechanisms can or cannot solve all the important collective action problems, or whether there could be a positive net benefit to empowering the state to provide for public goods, given public choice assumptions, is not totally unlike arguing about whether it is possible for the People's Revolution to draw its energy directly from an agricultural rather than an industrial underclass.
Wilkinson concludes:
    So what we need is a theory of just how libertarian a particular society could possibly get, given human psychology, the set of social and economic relations, the available mechanisms of persuasion, and the set of belief systems or "macro mythologies", at a given time, plus the dynamics that govern changes in these things. My guess is that for US society starting today, it's possible to get significantly more libertarian, but not radically more libertarian. What might that society look like?
My take: I agree with Wilkinson that we need to think much more seriously than libertarians usually do about what is feasible in the short and in the long term. Yet, that should not entirely lead us to forget the importance of ideals, even if they remain unrealizable.