Munger on Libertarianism

quotes economics liberty

07 Jan 2014

Michael Munger writes:

In 1831 French historian and politician Alexis de Tocqueville published Democracy in America, a memoir of his travels in the United States. It could have been called How Americans Get Things Done. Tocqueville marveled at how Americans worked together privately to solve civic problems.

He was no fan of majority rule. The problem with political democracy, he said, is that citizens are isolated and “enfeebled.” They can do hardly anything by themselves, and they can’t force others to help them. He admired the American solution to this problem: Organize into private groups, and leave government out of it. As Tocqueville put it:

They all, therefore, become powerless if they do not learn voluntarily to help one another. If men living in democratic countries had no right and no inclination to associate for political purposes, their independence would be in great jeopardy, but they might long preserve their wealth and their cultivation: whereas if they never acquired the habit of forming associations in ordinary life, civilization itself would be endangered.

When libertarians seem to be “against” everything, this is what we are worried about. If citizens ignored politics, things wouldn’t be so bad. But we are worried that our excessive focus on politics will cause us to ignore society and each other. If we fail to connect as social beings in complex reciprocal exchange relations, modern “democratic” life becomes anomic and mean, just as Tocqueville foresaw.

That—that—is what we are for: voluntary associations, in all their richness and bewildering complexity.

If you want to go out and persuade some people to work with you, and all voluntarily work for the benefit of each, then that is libertarian social change. If someone wants to opt out and form a different association, they are free to do so. And that’s a good thing, because you get diverse experimentation in problem solving.

Read more here.