Aus so krummem Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden.
Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.
– Immanuel Kant
While gradually, very gradually recovering from a severe flu, I have occasionally joined a different sandbox to delight readers at Cafe Hayek with some cheeky friendly fire.
Motto: just because I have invested a lot in developing a libertarian way of looking at the world will neither get me to suspend (i) the independence of my mind nor (ii) that unflinching attraction toward whatever appears closer to the truth than anything else -- to the contrary.
While feeling increasingly uncomfortable with certain attitudes typical of libertarian anti-statism, I have found no reasons to become less skeptical of the state than I used to be. However, my suspicion is growing that only then will we become more efficient at keeping the state under control if we understand better how it works and why it is likely to continue to persist.
From an exchange at Cafe Hayek:
In a way, are we libertarians not worshipping the state, too, ascribing
more power to it than it has? Enveloping it in a cloud of magically
omnipotent evil; thus practising a worship that imbues us with too much
awe to look with appropriate care at the intricate conditions and
constraints of 'the state'?
As for aesthetics: is an excess of disgust and dismissal not equally liable to generating outgrowths of kitsch?
No. I don't know what you personally ascribe to the state, but I don't think of it as magical, omnipotent or necessarily evil. But even in the absence of evil intent, do recall what the road to hell is paved with.
Fair enough. But what about the billions of people that would not live without the state framework that has been indispensable in all high civilizations so far, what about the enormous progress of civilization and the unbelievably high standard of living and quality of life brought about by an increasingly complex division of labour invariantly accompanied by state structures? To echo your last phrase: But even in the absence of benign intent, it seems that the road to heaven (on earth) is paved with it.
You write: "I don't think of it as ... necessarily evil." This triggers my curiosity, because my fellow libertarians do not seem to be awfully good at explaining why and how the state is not "necessarily evil". They seem to specialise in pointing out its egregious aspects. So tell me, why do you think the state is not necessarily evil. I am thirsty for satisfactory libertarian answers to this question.
Georg, while government has been pretty ubiquitous, it has not been
"indispensable". I think you're conflating those two terms. How did
the state bring about division of labour? I don't follow.
The state is populated by people working in their own interest. The problem is that they have the coercive power of a monopoly on violent force at their disposal. Coercion is, IMO, evil even if the people doing the coercing and their intent is not evil. So, the state may not be evil, but what it achieves and how it goes about it is evil.
Finally, but importantly, I don't remember a moment where I was elected to speak on behalf of libertarians. So, I am not giving "the libertarian perspective"; this is my opinion. I would accept or reject it on that basis.
I am afraid you only confirm the pattern that I observe in my
libertarian friends: I had asked you to explain why you believe that the
state is "not necessarily evil", as I found this a remarkably deviant
proposition by a libertarian.
Your answer, however, does not support your initial claim. What you seem to be saying is that PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR THE STATE do not necessarily have evil INTENTIONS. But the rest of your arguments amounts to claiming that the STATE is necessarily and unconditionally evil as it relies on coercion.
As for the indispensability issue, I urge you to try to find a connection between state and highly complex forms of the division of labour for yourself, just for your ways of thinking to have a walk in a different park. Later you may still want to consult the literature on the issue that I have mentioned in an earlier comment to this blog.
And in another comment, I conclude:
The upshot: as a libertarian I have come to doubt that we libertarians have a sufficiently powerful positive theory of the state, relying too much on normative preferences. There is too much wishful thinking and feel-good dismissal of 'statists views'. I can see only one serious effort to delineate a political scaffolding for a free society, and that is Hayek's constitutional proposal in volume 3 of Law, Legislation, and Liberty (Boudreaux has good grounds to consider it the weakest of the three volumes (it's uncharacteristically repetitive, yet it still contains very powerful stuff), which Hayek described in another article as a utopia - and it is. We libertarians have no effective theory of political change toward more freedom (we can only hope it will somehow happen, in the process becoming mopers), and that has to do with our normatively motivated disdain for and prejudice against the state. There are simply certain aspects of the state that we are not prepared to look at - first and foremost the possibility that we can never get rid of it and have no reliable means yet to preclude its toxicity. There is a powerful economic logic to the phenomenon of the state and we libertarians should be at the spearhead of this kind of research, rather than fearing one might be looked upon as a 'statist'.