The Libertarian Moment?

The Hundred Years’ War laid the foundations for the modern state.  Exaggerating only a little for effect, when “England” and “France” went to war over some convoluted feudal nonsense in 1337, nobody not directly in the armies’ path cared.  By 1453, though, both sides had to clearly articulate just why they were fighting in order to keep the war going.  “National chauvinism” turned out to be a pretty good answer for the French — who, after all, were on the receiving end of most of the physical damage — but it worked ok for England, too.  Early Modern English history makes a lot more sense when you know about the Pale of Calais.

It took the rest of Europe another 150 years, but the Thirty Years’ War did the trick.  What started as another of the endless doctrinal conflicts kicked off by the Reformation ended with the creation of the modern nation-state.  Cardinal Richelieu really was a Cardinal — a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, a guy with a legitimate chance of being elected Pope.  This man brought Catholic France into the war on the Protestant side for “reasons of state.”  This made sense in 1631… and the war still had another 17 years to run.

Speaking of, the treaty that ended the Thirty Years’ War, the famous Peace of Westphalia, is credited with creating the modern nation-state.  Which it did, but since we decided back in 1946 that nationalism was the worst possible sin, we Postmoderns forgot what everyone around the treaty table knew: That “nation” and “state” are inseparable.  The nation-state, which for clarity’s sake will henceforth be known as the ethno-state, is the biggest stable form of human organization.

“France is France because she’s France, and Vive la France!”  OK, sure — people will fight and die for that.  “But France is also Morocco and Ivory Coast.”  Non, monseiur, et plus non! or however you say “No way Jose” in French.  “Our ancestors, the Gauls” was a fun thing to make African children chant back in the heydey of the mission civilisatrice, but it wasn’t true and everyone knew it — especially the missionaries.  See also: France’s brutal colonial wars, which gave us such joy in Indochina.

But then a funny thing happened: France lost all her colonial wars, even the ones she got us to take over for her (we lost, too).  Britain actually won one, sort of (200+ years of practice will do that, I guess), but gave up the Empire anyway.  They could’ve just asked Bloody Mary, all the way back in 1558: Economics is what it is, and when the chips are down you just can’t find enough suckers willing to fight for places most of them can’t find on a map when times are good back home.

Economics is what it is, and in an increasingly globalized world, we started thinking that economics is all there is.  We forget this now, but Communism’s sales pitch was always economic — come the Revolution, comrades, everyone everywhere will be on Easy Street.  Note, please, how the Cold War ended: We outspent them.  But not on military hardware (the USSR devoted something like 40% of its budget to defense).  We outspent them on luxury goods. Life in the USSR was actually tolerable-to-pretty-decent, if you judge things solely by life’s necessities — the comrades all had food in the fridge, shoes on their feet, and toilet paper for their asses.  Americans, meanwhile, had 57 flavors just in their steak sauce… and that’s why communism sucks.  Cue the coup.

Homo economicus now reigns supreme.  When even the Chinese seem to be going all-in on consumer products, your spergy Libertarian (I know, I know, BIRM) can be forgiven for thinking that economics is all anything ever was…. and therefore, his conception of the minimal State is both workable and right.  What other purpose could there possibly be for a State, other than to police the contracts?

This sounds shocking, I know, but…. in yesterday’s world, the pre-Kung Flu world, they were right.  In a globalized world, where everyone has everything and nobody worries about where it comes from, we’re free to fret about “racism” and “xenophobia” and whether or not huge burly bearded dudes should be allowed to go wee-wee in the little girls’ room.  What role can or should the government possibly have in any of that?  Nation-states are anachronisms…

We need to seriously reexamine the Libertarian case, because it contains all the seeds of the present mess.  IS there a purpose to the State?  What could it possibly be?  All non-Libertarian, non-Communist political theory says, when you come right down to it, that the point of the State is the physical security of its citizens.  Hell, both Libertarianism and Communism say that too; they simply take it as given that a fully globalized world, free trade- or Workers’ Paradise-version, won’t have any interpersonal violence (no, really — they do.  Ask the Libertarians about their precious “non-aggression principle,” if you’ve got a few decades to spare).

The problem is, we have now collectively decided, as a species, that “physical security” extends to “not getting the sniffles.”  Since that’s utterly bugfuck insane, not to mention seventeen kinds of impossible, we’ve just torpedoed the foundations of ALL political legitimacy, worldwide.  To their credit, the Libertarians are the only ones who have been seriously thinking about what a non-Westphalian world would look like.  Whatever they’ve come up with is wrong, it goes without saying, but at least they’ve given it a go.  We need to do the same.

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One thought on “The Libertarian Moment?

  1. Maus

    What does post-Westphalian politics look like in the aftermath of a thoroughly discredired globalism, courtesy of Wuflu overreaction? I rather favor the model of the Greek polis: ethnic homogeneity combined with a manageable size that neither demands autarky or forbids intercity trade and alliances of convenience. But we needn’t look only to Sparta or Athens. I rather like Syracuse. Ruled well by decent tyrants; good agricultural economy based on grain production; and a culture that fostered engineering geniuses like Archimedes. Everything old is new again. Time for a classical rewind.

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