Modern libertarianism has too narrow a view of social harm and too limited a role for government in encouraging mediating institutions that ameliorate it.
Ken Masugi raises some questions for me about libertarianism. I fear, though, that we may be talking a bit past one another.
Libertarianism is a vague term, and I am a somewhat unorthodox libertarian. I base my libertarianism on an indirect utilitarianism (or more precisely welfare consequentialism), and I am a very moderate libertarian, who incorporates a large strand of fusionism. Ken appears to have been assuming I was a more orthodox libertarian. Nonetheless, I thought I would write a couple of words in response.
Most importantly, Ken seems to wonder how a libertarian society might defend itself. I suppose the question is why it would not be able to do so. If one includes classical liberalism within the category of libertarianism – and I certainly do – then the government can certainly tax to fund national defense. A volunteer army would also be entirely consistent with these libertarian or classical liberal principles. People have often been willing to volunteer to defend free societies.
Ken might wonder whether a military draft would be needed to defend a classical liberal society, as it seems to have been required during WWII. This is a complicated question, but let me offer a brief response. There are a variety of institutional mechanisms that could be used to avoid the need for a draft. Higher pay for those who serve is obvious. I also believe a set of contingent contracts – where a person agrees to serve in case a war emerges – would also make sense. Finally, in a world with nuclear weapons, a war of survival seems unlikely to require a draft, and our country has recently been able to fight two wars at once without a military draft.
In the end, I guess I just don’t understand Ken’s concerns. He writes of a libertarian country, “who would defend such a country or even want it to continue?” Well, I believe that freedom is a great thing and that living a life with freedom and the wealth it produces is very desirable. When freedom has prevailed, people see that it is a good thing and they support it. So who would defend such a country? Most of the people who live there.