The real difference between libertarianism and socialism is choice; in philosophy, the two actually have quite a lot in common. As I pointed out in my recent Total Politics interview, libertarianism has a strong tradition of collectivism—unlike socialism, however, that collectivism is voluntary.
This is a point that Jackart makes quite simply. [Emphasis mine.]
A Libertarian like me might decide that Libertarianism "has never been tried", but the libertarian has no promised land which is the destination. No individual is "expendable" for my political ends, which begin and end with the statement"I do not desire power over my fellow man, and I desire none to have power over me"
All creeds, beliefs and politics are acceptable to a libertarian. If you're a communist, go live in a commune. You'll probably make it work. If you're an objectivist, become a businessman and run a corporation. Just don't impose your world-view on me.
This is a point that I have often made: under a libertarian state, you can go and form a socialist collective and, provided that you coerce nobody, you can live quite happily under the (minimal) libertarian laws. Naturally, we shall watch with amusement as every drifter, grafter, lazy fucker and idiot starts to join your collective, but you can, nonetheless, do this.
Under socialism, I cannot form a libertarian enclave: I cannot opt out of the forced collectivist society that you have built. What? Do I hear you demure?
OK, let me give you a real-world example: I have a private pension, private health insurance and private unemployment insurance—can I opt out of National Insurance? No, I cannot.
What does this mean? What it means is that any libertarian state is going to have a very small, nearly powerless government and that by far the most political power is going to wielded on a local basis. A very local basis.
Is this a system that can be maintained? Indeed, what might it look like? Tom Clougherty at the ASI blog has some speculation on this point.
Tom’s excellent blog on the nightmare of ‘world government’ hits upon a very strong argument for localism. As Tom put it:
When all is said and done, there is one, final check upon a government’s ability to oppress its people. It is the mechanism used by Cubans when they tie empty oil drums to the chassis of old cars and try to paddle to Florida, or by North Koreans who manage to sneak all the way from the Yalu River to Bejing to try to slip into foreign embassies and beg for freedom. It is the ability to escape.
But this ‘exit option’ could be extended far beyond nation states. After all, even though it may be possible to move to a different, freer country, doing so is generally inconvenient. If we were to radically devolve power within nation states, however, that exit option would be very much enhanced. You could, in a sense, create a competitive ‘market’ in governments. And if you could change your government by moving from, say, Norfolk to Suffolk, you would have a far more genuine ‘choice’ about the policies you are subjected to than you could ever get at the ballot box.
The instinctive reaction of most English people to this suggestion would be incredulity. But look at Switzerland. Its 26 cantons exercise by far the greater part of that country’s political power, taking prime responsibility for healthcare, welfare, law enforcement and public education, as well as taxation. The most populous canton is Zurich, with some 1.2 million inhabitants, while the least populous (excluding the half-cantons, which band together) is Jura, with 70,000. And yet despite their small size, they seem to do rather well: the Swiss enjoy low taxes and excellent services.
Indeed they do. But could this really work in this country? Tom seems to think so.
There is no question that England’s traditional counties could operate effectively with a similar degree of autonomy. There would be numerous advantages to this: local governments would be more responsive and accountable than distant ones, they would be able to tailor policies more appropriately to local needs and conditions, and they would be able to innovate and learn from other jurisdictions. Moreover, competition between jurisdictions for businesses and residents would likely drive down average tax rates, while encouraging better use of taxpayers’ money.
Of course, in some areas the governments that resulted from localism would be even worse than the Westminster government. This is unfortunate. But if we believe in choice and competition, and further believe that those areas that adopt free market policies will prosper and inspire others, then we really should be prepared to let go of centralized power and see what happens.
Any move towards this system would be a move towards a more libertarian country, for certain. Of course, a libertarian government would have to allow secession from the state on the basis of individuals: if I wished to secede from the rest of society, then I should be allowed to do so.
Obviously, I would then have to agree treaties and payments should I wish to use the facilities enjoyed by the "parent" society. I might, for instance, wish to make a commercial contribution to the upkeep of police and the roads that I use.
In reality, the complication of all of this would probably mean that most people would not choose to secede—or, at least, not on an individual basis—but, under a libertarian government, it must be possible to do so.
And this speculation is where we came in. Because, you see, it is the ability to choose that sets libertarianism apart from socialism—or, indeed, "social democracy".
And it is the lack of choice in our society that means that—for me—nothing significant will change upon Cameron's accession to