Libertarianism And Imagination

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

A key weapon of the Libertarian thinker is imagination.

Human society is and always has been a decentralized give and take.  Norms and habits are emergent phenomenon, as are our historical and social narratives.  The state and its violence represents a dominant forcing factor upon the emergent order.  It’s very easy to identify and criticize the state’s abuses.  It is difficult to talk about the alternatives.

Alternatives surely can exist, but they represent an unseen order.  How do we deal with such intangibility?  Beyond playing with counter-factuals, we can look at opportunity costs, and frame our critique of the state in terms of the damage the state imposes upon alternatives.  But what would these alternatives be?

This is where we need imagination.

Was imagination behind what the Wright Brothers accomplished?  What about Cornelius Vanderbilt?  Can we describe the field to which the entrepreneur belongs as “applied imagination”?  The entrepreneur is identifying emergent phenomena which have yet to emerge.  This is basis of profit.

So libertarian thinkers need to be highly imaginative.  We’re intellectual entrepreneurs, naturally of varying quality.  At some point, some of us might stumble upon some idea or two that really works in the social, economic, or political realms.  And everyone moves forward.

I think this is a good argument against libertarian in-fighting.  We’re engaging in a different kind of politics.  It’s not the politics of control, but the politics of voluntary exchange. Don’t like an idea?  Don’t be a consumer of it, don’t lend it cache.  Argue against ideas you don’t like.

But for God’s sake, never stop pushing the limits of your imagination.  The world hardly accepts Libertarian premises officially.  I think this means we need to imagine harder.


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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan