Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Cheers

I was at a party a while back, and the subject of libertarianism came up. Considering the makeup of the crowd, the opinion of the topic was one of almost universal approval.

Normally, I save my political rantings for more intimate venues (my wife
gets to hear a lot of them - sorry honey), but I'd had a few drinks, and couldn't stop myself from playing devil's advocate.

The problem is, libertarianism is completely correct. Yep, the the whole program, liberty, personal responsibility, voluntary association - its entire intellectual foundation is logically and morally consistent, so there is almost no chance it will ever be anything but a fringe movement.

Imagine a modern person transported back to fifteenth century Germany - arriving in a large field where the townsfolk are dragging an old lady to the stake to be burned for a witch.

"Wait!" Screams our hero, "There is no such thing as a witch. This woman is innocent. Your crops failed and your cows went dry from completely natural causes, and you should look for those instead of engaging in this useless behavior."

"Further," continues the visitor from the future, "Even if this poor old lady believed herself to be a witch, even if she went out on the night of the full moon, danced naked and offered her soul to Satan in return for earthly power, even if she went about casting curses on your fields and cattle, it only means she is as deluded as you. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WITCH! Now stop this nonsense and find the real cause of your problems."

It makes no difference that everything he says is true - factual, absolutely, mind-of god true. The mob will grab him and toss him in to burn with the witch.

It is an iron rule: Denying the existence of witches means you are one.

But, you say, those are ignorant peasants; us modern folk would never fall victim to base superstition.

Oh, yeah? Try the same kind of speech as above in Zuccotti Park, but substitute bankers for witches as the authors of all the world's ills, and see what you get - hopefully not burned at the stake, but don't bet the house on it.

Hyperbole? We have just left a century where cynical men directed the rage of the masses against Jews, capitalists, hoarders, wreckers, polluters of racial purity, and other imagined enemies. The result was a pyramid of a hundred million skulls. The context may have been different, but the unbroken chain connecting those atrocities to the witch hunts of the distant past was the eagerness of people to throw their neighbors onto the pyre.

So, to all you Free-Staters, Reason Magazine readers, and Cato Institute supporters, I am with you sixty six and sixty seven one hundredths percent, but remember, the vast majority of our species wants, needs, and seeks witches to burn - because witch hunts are less terrifying than freedom.

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