Should libertarians ‘do politics’? No. There you go, problem solved. Easy. Next! But, on the off-chance you want, like, an argument or something…
Running parallel to the really big philosophical question (“why is there something rather than nothing?”) is the really big political question: Why is there government rather than nothing? There’s both (to push what’s already a tenuous link to breaking point) material and ideal interpretations of this question, and they should be kept separate. The empirical, historical answers are well-known and well-documented. In what follows I’ll stick to the purely rational stuff that Anthony de Jasay is so good at. (That’s an incredibly subtle hint that you should check out Anthony de Jasay, reader.)
What is politics, then? Politics is a way of reaching binding decisions where there is not unanimity among those who are to be bound by those decisions. But are such collective choices necessary in the first place? Can they be justified?
Every collective choice must overrule an individual choice. For if there were unanimity, why would we need politics to come to our rescue? Say, for instance, I don’t want to fund the building of a new library, but the political decision is made to build it. I must hand over some money, like it or not. For the more strict type of liberal alarm bells should be ringing at this point. But if they aren’t, keep in mind that politics, by its very nature, is nothing but the continuous overruling of choices made by individuals.
So why should men and women agree to be bound by political decisions? The usual answer is that politics is a way of avoiding conflict. As everyone knows, the big selling point of democracy is precisely this. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of the truth.
Again, let’s say that building a new library is proposed. A majority is for, a minority is against, but the majority can’t (or don’t want to) fund the project themselves. Now knowing what we do about politics, does the library get built? Of course! The minority are forced to cough up, and a horrifying future where people lie book-less in the street is avoided. Look a bit closer, however, and you’ll see that this democratic miracle is an illusion. All that is needed for harmony to prevail is for the majority to accept that they can’t afford a new library. In other words, all that is needed is that the majority refrain from aggressing against the minority. No political institution whosoever is required to obtain this peaceful result. In short, democracy actually creates conflict where none would otherwise exist. Democracy, by victimising dissenting minorities, institutionalises conflict.
What about the way we decide the way we decide? To be legitimate, collective choices must take place according to a rule. The democratic rule (loosely – but not too loosely) is that the majority is right. A choice made by the political authority in a democracy is legitimate if, and only if, the majority supports it. How is this possible?
Let’s say a society is at the point of deciding to become democratic. How do they go about doing this? Do they have a vote and go along with what the majority says? But at this time the minority hasn’t agreed to be bound by the democratic rule. So if the majority votes for democracy, why should the minority acquiesce? And more importantly, why would a majority vote be binding at all, unless the democratic rule was already accepted?
Now if, rather than following the wishes of the majority, this society decided to go along with the minority; or if they didn’t bother with having a vote and just went with the decision of, say, the richest, or the tallest, or the most handsome, or whatever, these problems would remain. The foundation of politics – all politics, any politics – is a completely arbitrary decision. Ultimately no collective choice can be legitimate; there can be no such thing as ‘rule by laws’, only ‘rule by men’. For liberals this is somewhat problematic.