The Path To Liberty: Radical Decentralization vs. Universalism

Today on Lew Rockwell’s indispensable website, Mises Institute president Jeff Deist, posted a thought provoking article on the practical ends of libertarianism. Deist’s contention is that almost all liberals and conservatives seek universalism, that is, attempting to instill western democratic values to all persons on the globe. Unfortunately, many libertarians, including the Libertarian Party, have jumped on that bandwagon.

Per Jeff Deist:

“Universalism provides the philosophical underpinnings for globalism. But it does not provide a roadmap for freedom. Libertarians, who want a non-political world organized around civil society and markets rather than the state, have a responsibility to call foul on this inescapably statist narrative. Globalism is not liberty; instead it threatens to create an entirely new level of government. And universalism is not natural law; in fact it is often directly at odds with human nature and (true) human diversity.”

He goes on to point out that universalism, political or economic, is ultimately unachievable because people can’t be relied on to always think and act in ways that the ruling class want them to and thus universalism can’t answer questions fundamental to the study of human action (praxeology). Not only this, but to have any kind of workable universalism, you would need to presume an all-powerful one world state.

Deist argues that what libertarians should really be pushing for is not universalism, but radical decentralization: the idea that local oversight is always better than faraway rulers and that humans, because of natural law, have the right of self-determination. This decentralization should ultimately progress all the way to the individual.

Deist on the importance of self-determination:

“In other words, self-determination is the ultimate political goal. It is the path to liberty, however imperfect. A world of seven billion self-governing individuals is the ideal, but short of that we should prefer the Liechtensteins to the Germanys and the Luxembourgs to the Englands. We should prefer states’ rights to federalization in the US, and cheer for the breakup of EU. We should support breakaway movements in places like Catalonia and Scotland (provided they are organic and not engineered by states and their spy agencies). We should admire the Swiss federalist system, where localism is a governing principle.  We should favor local control over faraway legislatures and administrative bodies, and thus reject multilateral trade deals. We should, in sum, prefer small to large when it comes to government.”

The first step on the path to self-determination is to delegitimize the state, in all its forms. Only once people see the state as the violent and oppressive institution it is, can they begin to imagine practical market and self-determined solutions to the problems they face.  The election of Donald Trump has certainly done a lot towards this end. When was the last time you saw progressives in California talk about nullification and secession in a positive way? Normally if you claim either of those things as positive values, you are attacked by the left as a racist and a neo-confederate. It’s amazing to see people who champion the growth and supremacy of the state change their tune once they are out of power. Is the left hypocritical? Of course, but so is the right. The only thing that is important is for the state to lose credibility, legitimacy, and, ultimately, authority.

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