Has Libertarianism fallen ?

Libertarianism is awfully unpopular. While this has no bearing on its truth or falsity, it does have a lot of bearing on its real-life applications. Any attention that it gets as a political option is tainted with the idea that IT’S SO MARGINAL, which makes it easy to objectify it.

So when a famous professor of political economy, Francis Fukuyama, writes an article called “The Fall of the Libertarians” in the Wall Street Journal on May 2nd, declaring that libertarianism is on its way out, people listen.

“Libertarianism”, Fukuyama declares, is a “radical dogma whose limitations are becoming increasingly clear”. What limitations would that be ? Libertarianism is now “fighting rearguard actions on two fronts: foreign policy and biotechnology”.

In view of the current failures of statist foreign policy and biotechnological bans, this is surprising. Moreover, it is difficult to remember when libertarians have NOT fought rearguard, to a point that many libertarians are tired of it. Many of us feel impotent against the government’s erosion of freedom, which constantly redefines the very debate further and further away from libertarian views.

But never mind. Fukuyama obviously thinks that this is a new thing. He thinks that the absence of an international role for America’s army is a weak point of libertarians, since the September 11 terrorist attack “was a reminder to Americans of why government exists, and why it has to tax citizens and spend money to promote collective interests. It was only the government, and not the market or individuals, that could be depended on to send firemen into buildings, or to fight terrorists, or to screen passengers at airports.”

Defense against terrorists is not a “collective interest”. Everyone is interested in the accomplishment of this goal, not only the government.

Actually, the first problem is that it is an absurd lie. The government obviously did NOT do a good job of fighting terrorists or screening passengers, or otherwise the attack would not have happened. Defense against terrorists is not a “collective interest”. Everyone is interested in the accomplishment of this goal, not only the government.

The most important point is that the free market, that is free individuals, can be depended on to send firemen into buildings, fight terrorists, and screen passengers at airports. What exactly is the difference between a public fireman and a private fireman, apart from the inefficiency and twisted interests of public systems ? The answer, of course, is none. There is no reason to presume that free individuals cannot be more efficient and interested in stopping fires, fighting terrorists, or screening passengers than government employees.

Fukuyama also claims that the libertarian desire to keep cloning and designer children legal is unreasonable : “there are reasons to be skeptical of arguments that say that genetic engineering is just another choice. (…) “It is a stretch to assume the informed consent of a child to be (…) genetically redesigned in a risky experiment”. His own position on biotechnology is rather bizarre and it is not clear that he has any credance in that area.

Like any other biotechnological debate, the issue of genetic engineering is almost trivial. We already “engineer” our children when we choose our mate. The only difference is that genetic engineer permits us to exert a finer control over what kind of child we’ll get. It’s as simple as that.

The consent issue is likewise moot, classical anti-abortion rhetoric – it is not a “child” but an embryo, and embryos have no right to refuse anything. They are not volitional, intelligent beings like children are. To use the word “child” is an attempt to intimidate people into thinking that they are proposing murder.

Now, the question of “risk” is another issue altogether. I would not oppose measures that would limit the permissible risk to the mother, in a sense. However, limiting the industry is absurd and reeks of an anti-science attitude. In the end, it is unreasonable to think that libertarianism has fallen : however, my esteem of Fukuyama did fall.