Declaration of Independents

James K. Pinkerton, on: "libertarian polemicists, whether they like it or not, will indeed be kept far from real-world politics and real-world victories"


Over at The American Conservative, James P. Pinkerton throws cold water on the "breezy," "gonzo-wannabe," "neo-Whiggish" optimism of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America. A chunk of Pinkerton's critique:

They invoke cyberspace: "The generation raised on the Internet has essentially been raised libertarian." And it's true that for decades theoreticians ranging from Howard Rheingold on the left to George Gilder on the right have rhapsodized about the libertarian potential of cyberspace—everyone free to be you and me, self-organizing in a non-hierarchical way.

Yet a substantial body of counter-utopianism about the World Wide Web has been building in recent years. Authors such as Debora Spar and Tim Wu have argued that the openness of the Net is just a phase in the cycle preceding ineluctable corporate control, while others, such as A.J. Keen, go so far as to envision "digital feudalism"—that is, a few giant castles of Net power, surrounded by microserfs. And Evgeny Morozov predicts a new and fearful wave of Web-based surveillance, a concern echoed by Julian Assange, describing just one component of this Brave Net World.

The most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented

Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented. Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to U.S. intelligence.

Even if the U.S. government didn't exist, would we trust Facebook by itself? What do libertarians have to say about the prospect of corporations growing so strong and all-knowing that they become, in effect, their own kind of government?

As for policy prescriptions, Gillespie-and-Welch-style libertarianism is a mixed bag. We might agree that school choice is an idea whose time has come, while exuberant foreign wars and endless nation-building are crazes that need to go. But then we confront other issues: What's the libertarian position on abortion? How about legalizing drugs? Or opening the U.S.-Mexico border? […]

The authors' solution [to health care], of course, is the free market. Yet the idea of a free market for Medicare was trounced in the May 24 special election in New York, in which mostly Republican voters rejected Rep. Paul Ryan's "empowerment" approach to senior healthcare.

Bonus reading:
* Reason on legalizing drugs.
* Adam Thierer, on Tim Wu and "The Rise of Cybercollectivism"
* Jesse Walker, on The Social Network
* And James P. Pinkerton, from May 2008, on "The State of Libertarianism, 2058: How the Rand Era gave way to the Surveillance Era—and what we can do about it. A speculative flight into the future."