Random Musings

14 Aug

So I started to muse …

One of the issues I intend to look at in Culture Shock, which will be The Empire’s Corps VII or IX, is the difference between a strongly libertarian society and a strongly communal one. Both have their strengths and weaknesses; a communal society, on a very small scale at least, will be capable of ensuring that everyone has enough to eat. A libertarian society, by contrast, has no official function for ensuring that people can eat. There may be individuals who give charity, but society as a whole does not.

However, there are major problems with both societies. By definition, a communal society cannot tolerate dissenting views. If all foodstuffs must be shared, for example, people who disagree with this become a danger to the body politic. This actually continues; religious dissidents, freethinkers and suchlike are also dangerous to the society. After all, they might convince the population not to stay with the community.

By contrast a libertarian society can tolerate all sorts of different views. This is a problem when two separate sets of views contradict one another. What constitutes the sort of rules needed to keep a society fairly stable without leading to an end to libertinism? At an extreme, this society must tolerate everything apart from intolerance – which leads to obvious problems when ‘everything’ might include paedophilia, arranged marriages and rape.

This also leads to problems when it comes to focusing on the common threat. The communal society might recognise that there is a threat and bring its combined power to bear on the threat, while the libertarian society might spend hours arguing over the existence of the threat and how to deal with it. (Alternatively, the communal societies leaders might recognise that the existence of another society, another way of life, is a threat … even if the threat has no intention of posing a threat.) By contrast, libertarian societies would be comfortable with other societies … after all, everyone has the right to choose … and then failing to realise that the other society cannot coexist harmoniously with them.

Leadership is another issue. Communal societies do not tend to have elections, or free debates; that would run the risk of introducing new thoughts into the community. Generally, the leaders are either dictators or men who have spent years climbing to the top while mouthing the platitudes the system required of them. This leads to an impressive single-mindedness (at least with dictators) but also limits caused by having one person or a handful of people making decisions for the whole. By contrast, a libertarian society might spend much longer arguing over who (if anyone) should take the lead.

Selecting leaders would be important for both societies, but how does one choose a leader for the libertarians? Heinlein’s suggestion was a term in the military as a volunteer – or, perhaps, as part of a working corps. What about insisting that only taxpayers can vote? Indeed, make taxpaying voluntary … those who pay are the ones who put their money where their mouth is. Say the requirement is 10% of a year’s earnings. A child of 14 could vote if they earned money; a scrounger could not. A husband could pay for his wife to have the vote, if he saw fit.

I’m not really looking to craft a libertarian utopia here, more contrasting the two societies – and their flaws as well as their strengths.


7 Responses to “Random Musings”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard August 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    One thought is that a Libertarian society isn’t likely to be stable past the first generation. A Communal society likely would be too stable.

  2. James Caplan August 14, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    I don’t think either of those extremes are that realistic. Many Communes have an organizational structure with elected leaders; while some totally libertarian utopias have rules and authority. I’d rather read about a more nuanced contrast in styles rather than a caricature of extremes. The challange is in how decisions are made, how good those decisions turn out to be, and how the society recovers from bad ones. It’s also fun to think about how good leaders’ management styles would differ within the two structures. (Bad leadership behavior would be pretty obvious.) It all reminds me of how organizations tend to swing between centralized vs.distributed management, and how much more quickly that reorganization takes place after a disaster.

  3. Shane August 28, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    Just looking for a couple points of clarification; your said “– which leads to obvious problems when ‘everything’ might include paedophilia, arranged marriages and rape.” are you speaking of a Libertarian or an Anarchist society. I do not believe any society based on true liberty would tolerate the violent use of force on others. Of course it is hard to enforce this ‘liberty’ without tolerating some violence and use of force from the government.

    I believe the most significant difference between the Libertarian and Anarchist is that the Libertarians believe in free markets, free trade and the primacy of the right to property. The purpose of governments and their laws is to protect and support these ends. Since Anarchists doesn’t believe in government the difference becomes more clear.

    The other question I have is that of scale. If you are talking about a neighborhood, a nation or a multi national (system(al)) conglomeration. It is easy to have a commune the size of a neighborhood and they generally work well; when they get large enough that people don’t know exactly who is stealing from them they become quickly corrupt. A society based upon the free trade of private property can scale infinitely; it could easily subsume or include ‘communes’ of lesser size. (They should have the freedom to voluntarily combine their property if they so wish.)

    In conclusion I will quote the great Diego Montoya – “I don’t think that word means what you think it means…” Just what do you mean by Libertarian?


    • chrishanger August 29, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

      I am reminded of the old saw about porn; “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” That’s the same definition everyone applies to Libertarianism. Chris > Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2013 17:28:17 +0000 > To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com >

      • Shane August 30, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

        Hi Chris,

        While we have seen many examples in history of large scale socialism (Communist Russia, State Capitalist China, Nazi Germany) there are really no examples of large societies based solely upon the ideals of Liberty. I have come across two major perspectives on Libertarianism. There is the Non-Aggression or Zero Aggression principle ala L. Neil Smith and Ayn Rand which is a nice ideal on a small scale (like a neighborhood commune) but has stability issues. Like with Anarchy the question becomes “How do you enforce it?” and eventually someone will come along either from within or without who doesn’t respect your principles and its all over… Zero Aggression does not mean pacifism or even preclude asymmetrical retaliation; but it is often difficult to respond in a timely manner to a swift and resounding kick to the privates.

        The other perspective while embracing non-aggression focuses on free markets and the free trade of private property; with the primary private property being ones mind, body and soul and the products thereof. This comes from Murray Rothbard . Rothbard’s approach would revolve around the voluntary membership in one or several affiliations. A person would exchange dues, fees, services and/or obligations for certain benefits and sureties from the affiliation(s). An affiliation could be a trade union or guild, congregation, co-operative, corporation, association, society or just about anything else.

        While a single large affiliation or a conglomeration of several may well be able to provide for general defense for its members, a larger system may still be required. Rothbard fails to address this and I struggled with it until you proposed “voluntary taxation”. If needed; a congress (parliament, senate) could be formed by auctioning off seats. An open dutch-style auction in some form could be used and would be available to any individual or affiliation who agrees to be governed by said Congress for its term. The funds raised at auction and no more would become the budget available to the Congress.

        There would probably need to be a form of Executive branch to offer continuity and a balance to power. I have given a bit of thought to the Executive and the size of Congress and how they might interact; but this is already long enough.


    • Bob Walters November 8, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

      This is old but I am going to reply anyway. Libertarian is the opposite of Authoritarian and collectivism is the opposite of free market. There are libertarian socialists just like that are authoritarian socialists and there are “free market” libertarians just like there are free market authoritarians. The best way to express this is with 2 axes with economic policy on one and political philosophy on the other.

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