The easy path to kicking up a storm in the libertarian world is to say: libertarianism doesn’t account for cultural variation throughout the world, and not everyone is actually prepared for liberty and prosperity; indeed, certain cultures prefer kinds of authoritarian and community rule. So it is with Tyler’s post here about his libertarian heresies (if you want people to respect your point of view, call it a heresy), with good responses by Robert Murphy and Daniel Klein.
This is hardly a new criticism of libertarianism. In the 1960s, when the Volker Fund had been backing so much great scholarship, some higher ups in the organization were converted to the idea that culture and religion was actually more foundational than politics and political ideology, and so this is where the focus must be. An edited book came out of that new insight: The Necessary Conditions for a Free Society edited by Felix Morley (1963) — a book that contains insight but didn’t amount to much actually.
I once asked Guido Hulsmann about this issue of culture as it relates to freedom. What about societies that are internally warlike or communitarian, or that eschew individualism in favor of group privilege and family rule, or are not inclined toward entrepreneurship or in which ideas such as individual rights just don’t matter, or where contracts and fairness are not recognized as values as important as conquest and domination? Should libertarianism account for the reality that there are vast preconditions for liberty to emerge that require some cultural upheavals?
What I was trying to get at is the critical question: what should the state do about this? His answer really stuck with me, but I won’t attempt to quote him directly. What he said is this. Whatever the cultural conditions and preferences of a people, no matter how strong the tendency toward conquest and graft, regardless of whether contract and fairness are respected or not, there is nothing the state can do to improve the situation. A society might be warlike and poor without the state; that is true. It might be brutal and impoverished. But imposing a state on that society will only exacerbate its worst tendencies and crowd out its best tendencies. The state offers no benefit to any society under any cultural conditions anywhere in the world. The state institutionalizes and entrenches bad things and forestalls the emergence of good things. Thus the focus on the state in libertarian doctrine.
Actually I found that answer very compelling, and haven’t forgotten it.