Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Milquetoast Libertarians in Wonderland

[Editor’s note: this is the first ever guest post at bionic mosquito; it has been submitted by Alice, of Looking Glass fame.]

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next.  Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? “I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?” she said aloud.

If you’re involved or even interested in politics and haven’t heard about House of Cards, then it’s likely that neither you nor your friends own a TV, a tablet, or a smart phone.

The series, one of Netflix’s new in-house productions, portrays the ruthless, power-hungry politician Frank Underwood…. Watching as a libertarian, Underwood's nearly every action is reprehensible. He acts solely to increase his own power, never shying away from doing immoral things, and he consistently pushes legislation that increases the scope of government. He is a libertarian nightmare. And yet we can’t help but be entranced by him.

But what if Frank Underwood was a libertarian?

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone “it means just what I chose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

At first thought, the idea is a complete paradox. His blatant acts of aggression and his vision of power as end rather than a means are contradictory to the underlying principles of libertarianism. Yet if Underwood viewed power as a means to accomplish libertarian policies rather than an end to satisfy personal desires, it wouldn’t be so easy to despise him.

“I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then”

Imagine if instead of education and entitlement reform, Underwood had pulled strings, twisted arms, and manipulated politicians in order to pass something like a repeal of the Federal Reserve Act or a decriminalization of drugs.

“Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.”

A mental exercise like this one doesn’t typically mean much in reality, but the truth is that it offers insight into the current direction of the liberty movement.

“I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it.”

There are two main methodologies that people subscribe to for creating libertarian change. One relies mainly on educational efforts, sometimes even abstaining from voting or any political activity, to create gradual change toward a freer society.

“I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”

The other emphasizes political activism to sway elections and build alliances with different groups in order to pass libertarian legislation.

“It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”

Both are vital for a movement and some libertarians effectively use a combination of both approaches. But if we picture the effect a libertarian Frank Underwood could have on the direction of the country, the superior approach becomes obvious.

…when she thought it over afterwards it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural

As unfortunate as it is, government bureaucrats and their cronies won’t change their behavior because they get handed copies of Human Action.

“Where should I go?"
"That depends on where you want to end up."

Politicians won’t begin following the Constitution because they got mailed a pocket-sized version of it.

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”

The government will continue to pass legislation violating everything libertarians stand for until someone has enough power to stop it. Gaining and keeping this power may very likely entail manipulative schemes to thwart more statist peers.

“But it's no use now to pretend to be two people! Why, there's hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!”

It may be contrary to what every libertarian, myself included, wishes the situation could be, but a failure to “play the game” means a failure to make change.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”

Envisioning a figure like a libertarian Frank Underwood makes it clear what the impact of a master politician who pursues libertarian legislation could be.

“I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir, Because I'm not myself you see.”

But questions about purity—doctrinal or otherwise—rarely touch on how the sausage gets made. At some point, some libertarians are going to have to get their hands dirty.

“Well that's it: if you don't think, you shouldn't talk!”

There are also worries about the corruptive nature of power and if a libertarian could actually avoid succumbing to its temptations.

“We're all mad here.”

After all, how much of one’s soul must be sold off to achieve such heights of power?

“I think you might do something better with the time than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.”

And so the question becomes: What ends justify what means?

“If you drink much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.”

Or, where on the continuum has the libertarian politician gone too far?

Whenever the horse stopped (which it did very often), he fell off in front; and, whenever it went on again (which it generally did rather suddenly), he fell off behind. Otherwise he kept on pretty well, except that he had a habit of now and then falling off sideways; and, as he generally did this on the side on which Alice was walking, she soon found that it was the best plan not to walk quite close to the horse.

…we cannot dispute that a willingness to “play the game” is absolutely vital if the liberty movement has any hope of moving out of the Internet’s basement and into the statute books.

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”



  1. So according to this thinking, "we must destroy the village in order to save it."


  2. Here's how you play this game of politics: secession and nullification. Amirite?

    1. As long as it is individual secession and nullification, yes you are!

  3. Don't you love those Randian terms?

    The word "proper" used by Ayn Randians.
    The words "play the game" by Rand Paulians.

    Drink the koolaid; there's more left and we don't have the space to keep it around.