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Free Minds & Free Markets

The Mad Dream of a Libertarian Dictatorship

The long-lived, utterly insane idea of an autocrat imposing freedom

In her 1926 book Concerning Women, the libertarian writer Suzanne LaFollette had some surprisingly sympathetic words for the Bolshevik regime in Russia. She nodded briefly to the Soviets' "alleged mistreatment of political dissenters," but she concluded that "Whether or not the Soviet Government succeeds in getting beyond dictatorship to the establishment of economic justice in Russia is not really important." The important thing, she felt, was that "the idea released by the Russian Revolution will prevail over the combined forces of European and American imperialism."

There has long been a strand in the classical liberal tradition that dreams a temporary dictatorship could be a stepping stone, even a shortcut, to reform. The idea may go back as far as the French economist Turgot and his alleged fantasy of remolding his country from above—"Give me five years of despotism," he supposedly said, "and France shall be free"—and it continued with the liberal-minded intellectuals who put their faith in Napoleon. LaFollette wasn't the only pro-market writer with a soft spot for a dictatorship of the left: As late as 1970, you could see a future president of the Mont Pelerin Society writing kindly about Lenin, Tito, and Mao. Other classical liberals, alarmed at the realities of red rule, swung the other way and endorsed authoritarian governments of the right. Jorge Luis Borges, to give one infamous example, supported the Argentine military regime that seized power in 1976.

And then there are the admirers of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, iron-fisted ruler of Chile from 1973 to 1989. A new paper in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, written by Andrew Farrant, Edward McPhail, and Sebastian Berger, explores the free-market economist F.A. Hayek's opinion of the Chilean dictatorship. Their article isn't necessarily the final word on the subject—the Hayek scholar Bruce Caldwell tells me he disagrees with the authors' interpretations on some points—but it does the most exhaustive job I've seen of tracking what precisely the Austrian intellectual said about Chile. Farrant and company debunk some of the claims that have been made against Hayek, but they make it clear that he combined an appreciation for Pinochet's economic policies ("From the little I have seen, I think it is no exaggeration to talk of a Chilean miracle") with a belief that a temporary dictatorship could be a salutory thing (Hayek said he would "prefer to sacrifice democracy temporarily, I repeat temporarily, rather than have to do without liberty, even if only for a while"). In Pinochet's Chile, Hayek predicted, "we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government...during this transition it may be necessary to maintain certain dictatorial powers, not as something permanent, but as a temporary arrangement."

That may not be full-throated praise, but it's an awfully sanguine way to talk about a state that tortured its opponents, censored the press, and imprisoned and murdered people for their political views. Hayek may have "prefer[red] to sacrifice democracy" if the alternative was "to do without liberty," but Pinochet restricted liberty in intolerable ways. The general wasn't even consistent in his commitment to economic freedom: He helped bring on a recession by fixing the peso's exchange rates; his regime's record is littered with bailouts, corruption, and other forms of crony capitalism; and he regulated labor tightly. (Pinochet initially banned unions altogether, and after they were legalized he still outlawed sympathy strikes, prohibited voluntary closed-shop contracts, and restricted what issues could be covered when unions negotiated with employers. And then there was his tendency to lock up labor leaders.) Hayek didn't defend those incursions on freedom, but there's no sign he expressed any concern about them either.

Needless to say, Hayek did not speak for every classical liberal. It isn't hard to find prominent libertarian individuals and institutions that condemned Pinochet's government while it was in power: Murray Rothbard denounced it fiercely, for example, and the Cato Institute published a series of angry exposés. And that tradition of criticism has continued into the present. Nonetheless, many myths about the dictatorship still circulate, mostly among conservatives but also sometimes among libertarians. I periodically hear it claimed, for example, that Pinochet was a reluctant ruler who stepped down from power of his own free will, a Cincinnatus who did what he must to set the stage for freedom. (Here's George Reisman: "General Pinochet was thus one of the most extraordinary dictators in history, a dictator who stood for major limits on the power of the state, who imposed such limits, and who sought to maintain such limits after voluntarily giving up his dictatorship.") In fact, when Pinochet lost a plebiscite that he had expected to win, the alleged Cincinnatus reacted by ordering his armed forces to impose martial law. His dictatorship ended because they refused to obey him.

Yet the legend persists. And it persists in part because of that fantasy of a benign temporary dictatorship—a "liberal dictator," in Hayek's phrase.

It is certainly true, as Hayek argued, that liberty and democracy are not the same thing. An intrusion on our freedom does not cease to be an intrusion when it is endorsed by a majority of voters. But dictatorships tend overwhelmingly to be illiberal as well as undemocratic; if you search for examples of liberal dictators, you'll come up almost entirely dry. Hayek cites Oliver Cromwell, who wasn't really all that liberal, and Ludwig Erhard, who wasn't a dictator. To qualify as a bona fide liberal dictatorship, a government must be unelected without being repressive; and to qualify for a classical liberal's defense, its officials should expand their subjects' freedoms. In the last century, the only figure I can think of who comes close to meeting those standards is John Cowperthwaite, the former finance secretary of Hong Kong; and his ability to do good without doing much evil was contingent on unusual historical circumstances that I do not expect to recur.

This paucity of examples should not be a surprise. As Farrant, McPhail, and Berger point out in their paper, Hayek's idea of a temporary liberal dictatorship was inconsistent with his other arguments:

Hayek's defense of transitional dictatorship appears to assume away a bevy of public choice warnings about the self-interest of political actors. Moreover, it is unclear why Hayek's argument about the supposed capture of the planning bureaucracy by "bad" planners would not similarly apply to the dictatorial bureaucratic machinery—supposedly a merely temporary expedient—that is created by Hayek's "liberal" dictator. Indeed, public choice reasoning suggests that any would-be "illiberal" dictator who can overthrow Hayek's "liberal" dictator will seize control over whatever dictatorial machinery is already in place (the bureaucracy and the military) and—once in power—nationalize vast swathes of the economy to squarely cement their position as dictator and to greatly strengthen their ability to extract rents from the private sector....

Indeed, Hayek took H.D. Dickinson—one of his opponents in the interwar socialist calculation debate—to task for defending the supposedly naive idea of a "transitional" socialist dictatorship....As Hayek tartly noted, any adoption of transitional socialist dictatorship would more likely culminate in a permanent regime akin to that of Hitler or Stalin than in the "beautiful and idyllic picture...of 'libertarian socialism'" painted by Dickinson.

It's not as though you need a dictatorship to expand liberty. Of the countries where market reforms were imposed from above, the most far-reaching changes came not in dictatorial Chile but in democratic New Zealand. More important, liberalization can come from below rather than above. Paul Gregory and Kate Zhou have made a strong case that one reason the retreat from a planned economy led to better results in China than in Russia is because the former country didn't impose reforms so much as it allowed them to happen: The peasants conducted what amounted to a civil disobedience campaign in the countryside, and the ruling class ratified the peasants' victories after the fact. Something similar is taking place in the DIY informal settlements of the Third World, even as the residents of those districts and their Actually Existing Markets sometimes find themselves at odds with governments pushing purported "market reforms."

The classical liberals who defended dictatorships often came to regret their enthusiasm. Borges finally signed a statement opposing the Argentine junta's habit of disappearing its opponents. LaFollette managed to move too far from her soft-on-the-Soviets stance, becoming a McCarthyist. But the dream of the liberal dictator persists in some corners of the libertarian universe. It is a dream that deserves to die.

Jesse Walker is a senior editor of Reason magazine.

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  • Caleb Turberville||

    To be fair, back in the 1920s, you had to be supportive of the Soviet Union if you saw the potential it could have for 20th century spy fiction.

  • Fluffy||

    I get what you're trying to say here, Walker, but the simple fact of the matter is that democracy is only a method. Liberty exists or does not exist based on what the laws are, and not based on how the laws came to be.

    Consider our constitutional republic. Taken to its logical extreme, it should be possible to construct a constitutional republic so well that there is almost nothing for a legislature to do, and no issues for a court to address, and very little for the executive to do but paint the White House every couple of years. This would be a profoundly undemocratic state in the sense that the periodic elections it held would mean almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, because there would be little to no need for new law and little ability on the part of any branch to create new law. But if the people were free based on the content of the never-to-be-materially-changed-again laws, it wouldn't matter that the elections were meaningless.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I'm fine with the idea that democratic rule inserts itself into places where there should be no rule at all. (I would rather have the First Amendment fully applied to broadcasters than get a chance to vote for the chairman of the FCC.) But that's different from the idea that dictatorial rule is preferable to democratic rule.

  • Tulpa the White||

    But that's different from the idea that dictatorial rule is preferable to democratic rule.

    Pulling the strawman on FA Hayek? That's low.

    His point was that dictatorial rule with liberty is better than democratic rule without it.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I know what his point was.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Then who are you arguing against here:

    But that's different from the idea that dictatorial rule is preferable to democratic rule.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Then who are you arguing against here

    I was drawing a distinction between two arguments (democracy vs. dictatorship and democratic intervention vs. no intervention). I don't think Fluffy was presenting an example of a libertarian dictatorship -- just of a democratic government that has been thankfully limited.

  • Fluffy||

    But that's simply a dictatorship of whoever wrote the constitution.

    A time-delayed dictatorship.

    If I wrote that constitution personally and imposed it in a revolutionary context (as a one-man Founding Fathers kind of thing) the ongoing political process would be subordinate to my will, to the detriment of the opinions and desires of any subsequent individual or majority.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Would it be okay under a libertarian dictatorship for cops to shoot a man defending his home when they have the wrong address?

  • Tulpa the White||

    Speaking of strawmen...

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Well, hell, Tulpa, I had to go to work yesterday so I lost track of how that thread turned out. I'm just a curious cat by nature.

  • Tulpa the White||

    To summarize, I won and all my opponents looked really dumb.

  • sarcasmic||

    To summarize, I won and all my opponents looked really dumb.

    You are a legend in your own mind. That's for sure.

  • Mrs. Kravitz||

    dictatorial rule with liberty

    Contradiction in terms. You lose. Sorry.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Mary and Tulpa. too bad, this could have been a good thread.

  • Mrs. Kravitz||

    Feel free to ignore us, BP. In fact, if you don't like it, maybe you should get your own blog.

  • ||

    too bad, this could have been a good thread.

    One ruins threads because she hates the board and all of the commenters, and one ruins threads because he hates the board and all of the commenters. Which is more contemptible?

  • Mrs. Kravitz||

    Feel free to ignore us, Warty.
    Take your own advice for a change.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Kravitz or whatever your name is: please don't speak for me. We're not friends or allies or anything except hated enemies of the glib, which is a coincidence, as we're hated for very different reasons.

  • Tulpa the White||

    I don't hate the glibster, I pray for his or her repentance and adoption of the ways of meaningfulness.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Or... was it okay for the man to defend his home against what he perceived as a threat?

  • sarcasmic||

    Or... was it okay for the man to defend his home against what he perceived as a threat?

    According to Dunphy anyone who arms themselves before answering the door deserves to be killed, and Tulpa the Pedant used the word "point" in some form in most sentences.
    Most everyone else regarded the cops and their apologists as the garbage that they are.

  • Loki||

    HAHAHAHA! I never realized you were moonlighting as a stand up comedienne.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Thanks, sarc. I figured that was how it turned out.

  • R C Dean||

    If you consider admitting that you would not open your door in the wee hours to help a neighbor to be "winning", then yes, you won.

  • DesigNate||

    Now that is pretty damn funny.

  • Ted S.||

    Is the man in question named Dunphy?

  • Tulpa the White||

    Thumbs up, Fluffy. A big thumb, too.

  • T o n y||

    Well, such a perfect system would need so many specific laws that we'd need a bunch of lawyers/judges to adjudicate outcomes in disputes anyway since laypeople would have no clue--even assuming it's even logically possible for there to be clear-cut answers to all possible disputes.

    Also quite suspect is the notion that there exists a perfect arrangement of policies for maximum individual freedom. Social standards change with time and technology; the most free lifestyle you could expect 500 years ago would be considered abject misery today.

    I think it's well established in western society that the right to vote for one's own government and thus influence its policies is the first freedom. If people want to collectivize resources for something that is their right, and a set of first principles denying people the right to alter their relationship with their government denies freedom.

  • sarcasmic||

    So many fallacies; so little time.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I'll bet he sneers when he types, sarc.

  • sarcasmic||

    I dunno. I doubt he can chew gum and walk at the same time, let alone sneer and type at the same time.
    He probably types a bit, pauses to sneer, types some more, then pauses to sneer again...

  • Mr. FIFY||

    All the while avoiding the dictionary entry for "racism"...

  • BakedPenguin||

    sarcasmic - him?

  • Fluffy||

    a set of first principles denying people the right to alter their relationship with their government denies freedom.

    The Bill of Rights is such a set of first principles.

    So, to Tony, the Bill of Rights denies freedom because it limits the right of people to impose their will upon others.

    Well, such a perfect system would need so many specific laws that we'd need a bunch of lawyers/judges to adjudicate outcomes in disputes anyway since laypeople would have no clue

    I bet I could do it with two or three relatively brief edits to our existing Constitution, and a handful of revisions to common law.

    Most of the wrangling that currently goes on is also a result of the fact that so many exceptions are posited to things that could easily be regarded as straightforward.

    There's less wrangling over speech, for example, than there is over health care, because speech is better protected than property. But if we simultaneously made it clear that our speech protections permitted no exceptions, and extended similar protections over property, where does the wrangling come from then?

    This country argued over slavery for four score and five years. There were legislative and judicial battles at both the territory, state, and federal levels of government. How many disputes have we had about slavery since 1865? Do we need an army of lawyers and judges to adjudicate slavery issues?

    There's no reason a host of other issues can't be buried just as deep as slavery.

  • T o n y||

    So, to Tony, the Bill of Rights denies freedom because it limits the right of people to impose their will upon others.

    The Bill of Rights, like the whole constitutional, is amendable by democratic means (with stricter requirements than most government business, and some would argue too strict). Still, the ultimate power is with the people. It so happens that the Bill of Rights contains a lot of good ideas.

    Property is inherently more complicated than speech because it involves concrete resources, and there are still plenty of controversies in the courts about speech. Property is probably inherently more problematic than most things. Slavery was after all a matter of property rights before it was a violation of human rights. How much domain individuals should have over a planet of limited resources is not something that is easily discerned and, I think, will constantly be in tension with other concerns such as sustainability.

  • Fluffy||

    The Bill of Rights, like the whole constitutional, is amendable by democratic means

    They're extraordinarily difficult and anti-majoritarian means.

    What if instead of needing a certain number of state legislatures, you needed ALL the state legislatures?

    Or you needed ALL the state legislatures TWICE, separated by four years?

    Would the power still ultimately lie with the people then?

    Face it - the constitution and the Bill of Rights exist precisely to frustrate the democratic impulse. That means that in a very real sense the men who (from a distinct minority position) imposed the constitution upon subsequent generations were acting undemocratically.

    And the most undemocratic parts of our government are the parts that work the best and serve liberty the most.

  • T o n y||

    But that's only because of the substance of those undemocratic aspects. If the same supermajoritarian restrictions were put on, say, removing the president from office, it would be a different story.

    The principle is pretty straightforward. Unless there's a good reason for an exception, most issues are most freely determined by simple majority. Among the good reasons is to protect minority and individual rights from majority tyranny.

  • Calidissident||

    You're last sentence is correct and good. The problem is, you have a very very narrow view of individual rights and majority tyranny

  • Calidissident||

    *Your*

  • Calidissident||

    Tell me Tony, do the people also have the right to collectively express their will that they do not want to tolerate gay marriage in their society? Is denying them that ability limiting their freedom?

  • T o n y||

    Clearly they do have that right, and will until a constitutional amendment or supreme court decision recognizes gay marriage as a protected civil right.

  • Calidissident||

    So protected rights simply come out of think air via the courts? And if the court doesn't side with you? What makes gay marriage such a special right that it deserves special protection from majoritarianism, while other rights don't get that?

  • T o n y||

    Because the court has recognized marriage as a basic human right multiple times, and there is no legitimate reason to deny this right to gay humans.

    You're the one implying rights come out of thin air. I'm saying they come from concrete things, like codification.

  • ||

    No, what you're saying is that the government GRANTS those rights.

  • DesigNate||

    Not giving is taking.

    Freedom is slavery.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    a government that doesn't have absolute power is a dictatorship. Because a Democracy should have absolute power, and if it isn't Democracy, it has to be a dictatorship.

  • R C Dean||

    Taken to its logical extreme, . . .

    Sounds a lot like the federal government we started with.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Great article! Someone should tell Ira Stoll that this is the way it should be done.

  • Tulpa the White||

    While I don't believe in guilt by association, this endorsement should make Mr Walker a bit suspicious of his conclusions...

  • Mrs. Kravitz||

    Why? Do you think Jesse Walker has jumped on that oh-so-tired anti-Vanneman bandwagon? It's a bit overcrowded.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    In her 1926 book Concerning Women, the libertarian writer Suzanne LaFollette had some surprisingly sympathetic words for the Bolshevik regime in Russia.

    Lies! Everyone knows there are no female libertarians!

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Perhaps, because they're all commie sympathizers?...Hmm, Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum?

  • SIV||

    TEAM JUNTA

  • Mr. FIFY||

    This is what the fools who hate libertarainism come up with - just the mere presence of a libertarian government, is in and of itself a "dictatorship".

    They also come up with the impossible contradictions of "libertarian socialism" and "libertarian Marxism" we discussed about a week ago.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Libertarianism does support dictatorship. Absolute dictatorship of the individual over his or her own body and property.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    We're not talking about that kind of dictatorship, though.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Of course. I've just been waiting for an opportunity to say that.

  • T o n y||

    The presence of a libertarian government almost implies dictatorship, since libertarian policies are not likely to be supported by democratic majorities. If libertarians were realists they'd have to conform their policy goals to political realities. But there is another option: just reinvent reality and convince enough people that what you're selling is different from what they get. Republicans are masters at this.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    See? Told you just a few posts up, folks.

  • ||

    "Libertarian" originally meant a form of anarcho-socialism, and it still does in much of Europe.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Also told you that a few posts up, folks.

    Only an idiot would think libertarianism and socialism (or its cousin, communism) can coexist.

  • robc||

    anarcho-socialism

    Contradiction.

    Socialism requires state ownership of the means of production. Anarchism requires lack of state.

  • sarcasmic||

    Technically that is what socialism means, but in practice it tends to means robust social programs, not government owning the means of production.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Gov't doesn't have to own the means of production, it can just micro-manage it to death.

  • BakedPenguin||

    This was the discovery of fascism. Or re-discovery, since Kings have been doing this for a while.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Yes, and what gov't that is into robust social programs is not going to micro manage everything else?

  • robc||

    Technically correct is the best kind of correct.

  • sarcasmic||

    Not if people don't understand what you are saying.

  • Tulpa the White||

    sarcasmic, you bastard, you're right.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's "Magnificent Bastard" to you.

  • Jesse James Dean||

    it actually means the WORKERS own the means of production. How it is always implemented on a wide scale is the government seizing the means of production "on behalf of the workers."

    Co-ops would be a form of smaller scale voluntary socialism, which is totally compatible with libertarianism

  • ||

    That would actually be anarcho-syndicalism.

  • Tulpa the White||

    In Pinochet's Chile, Hayek predicted, "we will witness a transition from a dictatorial government to a liberal government...during this transition it may be necessary to maintain certain dictatorial powers, not as something permanent, but as a temporary arrangement."

    And his prophecy was fulfilled; Chile is a prosperous country compared to the rest of South America.

  • Mrs. Kravitz||

    Moral of the story: out of dictatorship comes prosperity, if you wait long enough and don't mind all the, you know, mayhem. Hell, Germany is prosperous, so supporting Hitler was pretty smart after all. Drink!

  • Finchster||

    I'm surprised it took this long to Gowin the thread.

    But Tulpa the White is right--not only Chile but Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan...

  • ||

    Singapore isn't free and it hasn't transitioned to a liberal government.

  • sarcasmic||

    In terms of economic freedom, Singapore is ranked #2 by Heritage.
    http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

  • Drake||

    Athenian democracy was established by a Dictator (Solon). After it's first collapse, another Dictator, (Cleisthenes) re-established it.

  • ||

    Yes, and that isn't enough.

    And really, that ranking is more business freedom. Singapore still has lots of restrictions on consumer freedom and has a robust welfare system including pervasive government housing and heavily restricted ownership of vehicles to name two things.

    And I probably don't need to tell you the many other ways that Singaporeans are not free including no free speech, government control of the media and the death penalty (by hanging) for drug importation.

    It's a great place to live as an expat (I know having been one) in certain industries and hell it's a lot better than most of Asia but I'm glad I was born here and not there.

  • sarcasmic||

    I agree that economic freedom is not the only measure of freedom.

  • robc||

    George 3 - USA

    Our reasonably free society comes out of a dictatorship.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Ever heard of Parliament?

  • Ted S.||

    Yeah; I'm sick and tired of them asking me for the funk.

  • Adonisus||

    Yeah, but ya gotta HAVE that funk!

  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    And his prophecy was fulfilled; Chile is a prosperous country compared to the rest of South America.
    You know who isn't free and prosperous? The people murdered by Pinochet.
    So, no, Hayek wasn't right in the way we want him to be right as libertarians. He was right as a utilitarian, maybe. Or communist.

  • Loki||

    There has long been a strand in the classical liberal tradition that dreams a temporary dictatorship could be a stepping stone, even a shortcut, to reform.

    It's always easier and faster to just impose reform from above than try to build any kind of consensus. Unfortunately the temptation to do just that is too great for any government to not succumb to eventually. Especially when a large plurality of the population demands that the government "do something" about crisis no matter how large or small, and is essentially dependant on the government to solve all their petty problems.

    Dictatorship can be thought of as sort of like the "dark side" of the force. Easier, quicker, more seductive. All governments eventually give in to it, it's just a mattter of time.

  • Pro Libertate||

    A civil society allowed to function without the heavy, oppressive hand of government constantly interfering would likely develop lasting solutions to many of our problems. Attempts to solve things by diktat haven't worked so well, or have been grossly inefficient when they have worked.

    Want people to grow up and cooperate? Foster an environment that allows that to happen. If you treat us like children, we'll behave accordingly.

  • Loki||

    it's an awfully sanguine way to talk about a state that tortured its opponents, censored the press, and imprisoned and murdered people for their political views

    Interesting turn of phrase, considering sanguine can also mean bloody. "That pretty much covers all the options..."

  • sarcasmic||

    penis + potato + ocean liner = dictatorship

  • Bill Dalasio||

    This is a bit cring-inducing. While it's clearly wrong to suggest that Pinochet was some sort of modern-day Cincinnatus, the record at the time was a LOT more hazy. The Chilean legislature had out-and-out asked the military to intervene against Allende. The guy was building a private army with Cuban advisors answerable to the Chilean Socialist Party rather than the Chilean government. A modern-day Cincinnatus would have had to do a lot of things pretty similar to deal with the situation that the Chileans were faced with. Of course, so would a dictatorial bastard. Perhaps Rothbard and Cato believed that, if the Chileans asked really nicely, the Socialists would have come to their senses and relinquished their emerging dictatorship, but the evidence kind of runs against that hypothesis.

  • Drake||

    Good point - It's easy to play the hero like Cincinnatus when the threat is an external one. When faced with an internal threat, more likely to come up looking like a real bastard.

    Pinochet certainly compares favorably to Sulla in his response to internal strife.

  • PapayaSF||

    Yes, good point. I think the problem with this otherwise-good article is that it implies Chile had a choice between dictatorship and non-dictatorship, when the choice was between a left-wing dictatorship and a right-wing one. Right-wing ones are usually have less staying power, and leave the countries in better shape than the left-wing ones do.

  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    Right-wing ones are usually have less staying power, and leave the countries in better shape than the left-wing ones do.
    Again, except if you're one of the "suppressed." More utilitarianism.

  • PapayaSF||

    The point is that right-wing dictators create, on average, far fewer "suppressed" than left-wing ones. Pinochet, Batista, etc. are pikers at death and oppression compared to Castro, Kim Il-sung, Pol Pot, etc. It's not utilitarianism to prefer the lesser of two evils (when there are only two choices).

  • ||

    Heh, I remember for years before I read more about what was going on then, the sole descriptor used for Allende was always "democratically-elected" and nothing else.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Yeah. One man, one vote, one time.

  • Grant G||

    I think the "libertarian dictatorship" notion rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what dictatorship really is.

    It's easy to think of a dictator as an unfettered autocrat able to impose his or her personal whim on the supine masses. But in fact dictators rule at the pleasure of a web of social and governmental elites: There is no dictatorship that doesn't need a bureaucracy, a military, a police force, and so forth, and all of those people have their own agendas and requirements. The civil service could oust any dictator in a week by declining to cut salary checks.

    So a dictator, lacking the legitimacy of the democratic process, is in fact more constrained than a democratic leader in implementing economic reforms. The beneficiaries of the current system are the only people standing between a dictator and the scaffold.

    Where a dictator might excel is in purging a particular inconvenient political, social, or ethnic minority standing in the way of broader reform. But that's not a plan that any sane person would endorse, either on its odds of success or on its moral lights.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "Libertarian dictatorship" is a contradiction that could never happen.

    However, it is far easier to impose a dictatorship under either Republican or Democrat rule. And both parties are hard at work to achieve their goals.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's not a contradiction.
    All "dictatorship" really means is that Dear Leader doesn't need to wait for the legislative body to create or repeal laws.
    Laws are issued by fiat.
    So theoretically a dictator could do away with all the burdensome legislation and regulation that is strangling society, and chop government down into it's proper place.
    In practice people do not seek power for the purpose of dismantling it, so yes a libertarian dictatorship will never happen.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Even if it could, there's every reason to fear unlimited power, because even a benevolent tyrant has successors.

    No, we need a government that is broadly representative to avoid the worst sorts of oppression. However, that government has to be truly limited and has to have substantial checks built into its power at every turn. Where we went wrong was in forgetting that.

  • sarcasmic||

    The mistake was that the Founders did not anticipate the three branches of government colluding with each other instead of checking each other.
    That and there is no incentive to get rid of shitty legislation.
    And the logical conclusion of creating new shitty legislation in response to the unintended consequences of old shitty legislation is a totalitarian state.

  • robc||

    The mistake was that the Founders did not anticipate the three branches of government colluding with each other instead of checking each other.

    Actually, Im pretty sure they did, they just kicked the can down the road.

    Of course, they didnt count upon the 17th amendment completely screwing up the 4th balance point.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Furthermore, power is corrupting. Even if a libertarian president managed to get into office, we should be just as watchful as with the statists.

  • sarcasmic||

    Is power corrupting, or are the corrupt attracted to power?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Both, of course.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Democracy is probably the most conducive system for liberty, going by the rule of thumb that "the worst usually rise to the top" and it thus creates much more nonviolent turnover in the leadership than dictatorships.

    But, as we know, democracy has its own threats to liberty. If prosecutors were appointed to their office for life, rather than being elected, there's a good chance we'd have a lot less in the way of overzealous prosecution.

  • ||

    I think we'd still have overzealous prosecution, it would just be based on the whims of the prosecutor (and his personal feelings and vendettas) instead of the zeitgeist of the public.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I have to disagree, in part. A dictator can also rule by means of an active mob. In that case, they are essentially cowing the elites in question into submission.

  • Drake||

    You really think that the Roman Civil Service could have ousted Sulla? Or would they have found themselves proscribed and crucified the moment they became uncooperative?

    A dictator's power comes at the point of a gun or spear. No pissant bureaucrat will oppose a real dictator.

  • Jesse James Dean||

    In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two...

  • T o n y||

    It's certainly not clear, because there hasn't been enough historical data, that democracy is sustainable forever, or that it can't produce extremely bad outcomes. Even our system has built-in exceptions to democratic principles for major crises, and even if not explicit the utility of martial law is an inherent option for any system under extreme duress.

    Let's posit a hypothetical global environmental crisis that will go unnamed. It's theoretically possible that social democracies can get their acts together and address the issue, but it's probably more likely that they can't, that the problem is too big, too immediate, and too confused by special interests, and that the most efficient and humane thing would be top-down imposition of fixes. At a certain extreme point we must recognize that the social contract is not a suicide pact. But that comes with all the usual uncertainties and risks.

    The best system is one that maintains democratic legitimacy but which is flexible and empowered enough to deal with realities and crises in the world, i.e., a strong, technocratic bureaucracy. I don't think it's necessary to be having elementary arguments over the role of government as is the obsession of libertarianism. We've tried many systems and we have lots of data that demonstrates what works and what doesn't, and there's always room for improvement. We're long past the time when daydreams of utopia are relevant to discussions of how humans should govern and be governed.

  • Fluffy||

    Tony doesn't realize that he's arguing opposite sides of the same issue within the same thread.

  • T o n y||

    I'm surprised you haven't noticed me do that more often.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Social democracies will have no problem "getting their acts together" if the threat is real, not imagined.

  • Ted S.||

    It's produced Obama. I'd say that's an extremely bad outcome.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    "I don't think it's necessary to be having elementary arguments over the role of government as is the obsession of libertarianism. We've tried many systems and we have lots of data that demonstrates what works and what doesn't,"

    Problem, what doesn't work continues, and the rights of the individual continue to be trampled, thus the libertarian obsession with gov't. As Rand said, I'll stop being interested in politics when politics stops being interested in me.

  • T o n y||

    If you are a typical resident of a modern social democracy, you are more free than almost any human who has ever lived. Libertarians sure are an entitled bunch.

  • sarcasmic||

    Free to ask permission and do what we're told, just the serfs of old.

    The only difference is that we've got more toys.

  • sarcasmic||

    just *like*

  • Concerned Citizen||

    True, we're entitled to our inalienable rights, and when the gov't fucks with these rights, it is our right and duty to fuck with the gov't. And all you statists who are fine with trading our freedom for your supposed security.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If you are a typical resident of a modern social democracy, you are more free than almost any human who has ever lived.

    Even an amateur historian knows how risible and ignorant that statement is.

  • T o n y||

    I guess it depends on how you define freedom.

    I think freedom of opportunity and mobility is more useful than freedom to be eaten by a pack of lions in the wild or to otherwise die an early death in the absence of strong social institutions, but I understand our terms differ.

  • sarcasmic||

    Goalposts say "ZOOM!"

  • Concerned Citizen||

    What else did you expect?

    I am free from ruling my fellow man. I'd like my fellow man to be free from ruling me, so long as I do not initiate force or fraud upon him. I'll take voluntary cooperation over coercion any day. Strong social institutions don't/can't exist if based on coercion.

  • T o n y||

    There is no such thing as cooperation without coercion. And the more people who have to cooperate, the more formalized the coercion has to be. You have to have rules and enforcement, otherwise you have anarchy, and that's never worked out.

    Institutions are probably the most important factor in advanced civilization, and I can't think of any examples where they existed without government "coercion," which is just another way of saying government.

  • Tulpa the White||

    There is no such thing as cooperation without coercion.

    ?????

  • sarcasmic||

    There is no such thing as cooperation without coercion.

    Absolutely false. Happens all the time. It's called 'Spontaneous Order'. Look it up.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    "There is no such thing as cooperation without coercion."

    Possibly the dumbest thing ever said, at least until Obama's next speech. I am wearing Lands End sandals. I was not coerced to buy them. No gun was held to my head by them or by Teva or any other shoe company. They had to earn my business - that's cooperation. Now, if I don't want to 'invest' in my gov't retirement plan, tough shit, I have no choice. I'm bound by a contract I signed when I was 16 years old, below the age of consent. That's coercion. The two grocery stores near my home bend over backwards to be polite and helpful, as they are trying to earn my business. But I have to pay for my groceries with Federal Reserve Notes, instead of lawful dollars, as our lawful currency was outlawed by Saint FDR. That's coercion. As is the draft, Obamacare, and having to sign my infant daughter up for Socialist Security lest she be unable to attend school, or do much of anything. So fuck you and your coercion. By the way, posting on this site is a cooperative thing. Does that bother you?

  • Fluffy||

    Tony will say that the coercion was that you were prevented from just taking the sandals by force.

  • sarcasmic||

    Tony will say that the coercion was that you were prevented from just taking the sandals by force.

    That progressives believe this is very telling.

    I read it to mean that the only thing that stops them from committing murder is the legal system. Otherwise nothing would stop them from raping, murdering and pillaging.

    He only cooperates because he is coerced into doing so, and projects his dearth of morality onto everyone else.

  • T o n y||

    I don't know what crimes I might commit in the absence of laws, but the important question to me is what crimes others might commit.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    I'm sure the fact that Lands End does business through the mail didn't enter into that conclusion.

  • Ken Shultz||

    There is no such thing as cooperation without coercion.

    That's unbelievably dumb.

    There are commenters, who frequent this very website, who volunteered for military service.

    I've volunteered for soup kitchens and animal rescue.

    People pay extra for hybrid cars--because they care.

    You think the business partnerships I've formed and worked with only worked by way of coercion? Are you aware that people willingly work for large corporations--and some of them quit for something better every single day?

    You think that's coercion?!

    Haven't you ever willingly done anything in cooperation with someone else--becasue you wanted to?

    No such thing as cooperation without coercion?! That's the dumbest thing you've ever written on this website.

  • Fluffy||

    Like I said, Tony will argue that because coercion is employed to stop people from murdering and raping one another, that means it's also OK to employ coercion to force people to eat broccoli.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Like I said, Tony will argue that because coercion is employed to stop people from murdering and raping one another

    He will argue that!

    And I've explained to him a dozen times that protecting people from rape isn't coercion. Protecting people from murder isn't coercion either.

    Murder and rape are coercion. Armed robbery is coercion.

    Cops arresting murderers rapists and armed robbers is not coercion--it's protecting us from coercion.

    In his mind, is there no difference between a cop arresting an armed robber--and armed robbery? 'cause Tony can call them both coercion, but they're not the same thing.

    And he's had that smashed in his face a dozen time already. He's incapable of learning. He just demonstrated he's incapable of letting the reality around him influence his thought!

    No cooperation without coercion?! Didn't he ever help his Mom carry some groceries? ...just 'cause he wanted to help?

  • T o n y||

    Taxes pay for cops. Are those taxes not acquired by coercion?

  • Ken Shultz||

    Some taxes are more coercive than others.

    Sales taxes are certainly more voluntary, for instance, than income taxes because people, more or less, decide whether to pay sales taxes when they decide whether to purchase the item in question.

    In no case, however, does the existence of taxes to pay for police justify the sort of generally coercive behavior by government that you're advocating--as if government coercion were a good thing?

    Government exists to protect us from undue coercion. If you think government coercion exists to force the rest of us to do whatever Tony thinks is right, then the only difference between you and any other authoritarian is how far you're willing to go...

    Actually, having seen your complete lack of regard for other people's individual rights, over the years, I dare say you wouldn't be any different from any other authoritarian.

    No wonder you hate the government being there to protect us from coercion so much! That means it's really there to protect the rest of us from people like you!

  • T o n y||

    I don't see the difference between sales and income taxes. Nobody's forcing you to make an income, just as nobody's forcing you to buy a product. But if you do engage in the activities they are taxed.

    If you read your arguments carefully you're realize they're nonsense. If I'm on a slippery slope to authoritarianism then so are you; you may just be a tiny bit further up the slope than I am. You want to draw a magical line between what forms of government force are legitimate and which are not. Interestingly, only the most physical and violent forms of coercion pass your test.

    You have to be able to discern what are real arguments and what is sophistry peddled by defenders of wealth. Income tax is the only progressive tax we have--it exists to balance out all the other regressive taxes like sales taxes. The right has been bitching about it forever because the right exists to defend wealth and privilege, but certainly not because there is any moral distinction to be made.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    Income tax is a sales tax on labor, paid by the seller.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I don't know about that, but I know it's the last thing we should be taxing.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Tony's thoughts are just random...

    It's "Democrats are good; Republicans are bad"

    And anything that comes out of his mouth on any given issue has no basis in rational thought or any anchoring in reality.

    It's just--what can I think of to say that means "Democrats are good; Republicans are bad".

    What he says is just directionless, meaningless drivel. He doesn't even care about the issues. There are only two issues in his weird world:

    Issue One: Democrats are good.

    Issue Two: Republican are bad.

  • sarcasmic||

    Once Tony moves out of his Mommy's house there will be no one to coerce him into getting out of bed.

  • T o n y||

    Not exactly. Republicans: bad. Democrats: the only other option.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Not exactly. Republicans: bad. Democrats: the only other option.

    Why isn't your universe big enough to include the possibility of real personal autonomy, Tony?

    Where instead of the choices being made by Republicans or Democrats, the choices are made by you?

    You know why we don't live in a world like that, Tony? It's because people like you live in an imaginary universe, where personal autonomy isn't possible.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's unbelievably dumb.

    This is Tony we're talking about.

    In his case it is believably dumb.

  • Ken Shultz||

    But he's actually making Progressives look dumber than they really are!

    Progressives are wrong--but they're not really this stupid.

    It almost makes me feel bad for them. Can you imagine if we had somebody who called himself a libertarian and went around saying stupid stuff like this--making us all look bad?

    I guess we have that when certain people go around spouting racism or misogyny in the name of libertarianism--but I think this is effectively like that.

    I just wish he spent more time on mainstream websites making Progressives look bad--why save it all for us?

    Libertarians already know that Progressives are America's most horrible people.

  • sarcasmic||

    Progressives are wrong--but they're not really this stupid.

    My father told me that a wise person learns from the mistakes of others, a smart person learns from their own mistakes, and a stupid person doesn't learn.

    By that measure Progressives are indeed stupid.

    Ironically, my father is a Progressive.

  • sarcasmic||

    When you only understand force, the concept of liberty does not compute.

    What authority gives you permission?
    What authority sets the rules?
    What authority give you orders?
    What authority pats you on the back when you're doing it right and corrects you when doing it wrong?

    Liberty means anarchy, and anarchy means chaos.

    Therefore liberty is bad.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    There is no such thing as cooperation without coercion.


    I'm sure glad I'm not your significant other. Somehow, I get the impression that romance, for you, involves a lot of leather.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    There is no such thing as cooperation without coercion.


    Tony, may I introduce you to Steve Smith. I think you two will get along famously.

  • R C Dean||

    Freedom of opportunity?

    Tell me, what opportunities am I free to pursue that don't require state permission?

    Freedom of mobility?

    Tell me, what mobility do I have that doesn't require state permission?

  • T o n y||

    Are you trying to prove my point?

  • Tulpa the White||

    That's because modern Western democracies (I hope you're not including "democratic people's republics" and the like) are the descendants of classical liberal democracies with a lot of free-market inertia still built in to them. Which you and your leftist pals are doing your best to dissipate.

  • Ken Shultz||

    There has long been a strand in the classical liberal tradition that dreams a temporary dictatorship could be a stepping stone, even a shortcut, to reform.

    I don't think we should forget that what was written about Pinochet at the time was written within the context of the Cold War.

    I would further point out that when Pinochet left power, no, it wasn't because of the willing goodness in his heart. It was in no small part because of our engagement with his regime.

    I certainly wouldn't advocate dictatorship as a stepping stone on the way to freedom, but if the alternative was communism, well, that isn't exactly a stepping stone on the way to freedom either.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I would further point out that when Pinochet left power, no, it wasn't because of the willing goodness in his heart. It was in no small part because of our engagement with his regime.

    The world is contending with the same questions now in Burma/Myanmar.

    It was a brutal regime that wants to come in from the cold and join the rest of the developing world around it. But they aren't about to give power away if they think the end result of that is being put on trial at the World Court or being tried and hanged by their own people...

    So, you're starting to see Obama suspend sanctions against them. And as that happens, you're starting to see the junta release some political prisoners...

    As this process continues, smart freedom loving people should start reaching out to shake hands with the junta and its leaders! Because if and when the junta starts stepping down, just like with Pinochet, it won't out of the warmness of their hearts.

    It will be because they think what they'll get for stepping down is better than what they've got for hanging on.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I mean, anybody that gets a special kick out of hating on dictators should continue to do so. I'm certainly no fan of Pinochet, the junta in Burma or any other junta.

    But if your main objective is freedom for the people of Burma, for instance, then sometimes doing what it takes to make freedom happen isn't as pretty as we'd like it to be.

    But trying to give dictators a soft landing so that it's in their best interests to forgo power? Isn't the same thing as advocating dictatorship as a stepping stone to freedom.

  • Fluffy||

    I don't think that really can happen any more.

    The last generation of dictators to step down found out that as soon as their ability to instantly reclaim their power faded, whatever deal they had cut for amnesty would be torn up.

    I think Pinochet's own last years should teach all dictators to hold on to the bitter end, no matter what promises or guarantees are made.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Pinochet did okay for a while.

    He only got in trouble when he flew to Spain for healthcare, and by that time, they couldn't really do much to him by way of justice anyway.

    Also, there are lot of ex-dictators who never saw justice. Even in places like Chile and Central America. We may see some big man headline occasionally, but these atrocities weren't just perpetrated by the figurehead at the top...

    Just across the way from Burma in Cambodia, my understanding is that there have only been two trial of Khmer Rouge figures--one in 2007 and one that got underway last month. 35 years later, two guys are being tried, and there may never be another trial.

    It's like that in Central America too, where the people who tortured and slaughtered civilians--everybody knows who they are and where they live--and they live very nice lives.

    I'm not here to tell other people what's worth fighting for or dying for. If my family members had been tortured to death, I might not think freedom was worth the price of letting the murderers and torturers off the hook.

    On the other hand, if a country can transition away from dictatorship without a devastating civil war, that not without its upside.

    That's kinda what's happening in Egypt. We'll see what happens with the junta in the end, but my guess is that if the junta ever steps down from power, it'll only be after most of them are adequately reassured that they'll never face justice for their crimes.

  • DurkDing||

    OH wow man that makes a ll kinds of sense dude. Wow.

    www.Privacy-Been.tk

  • DRM||

    There has long been a strand in the classical liberal tradition that dreams a temporary dictatorship could be a stepping stone, even a shortcut, to reform.

    Yeah, it's not like Chile wound up with Latin America's freest economy (#7 worldwide on the Index of Economic Freedom) and freest government (a 1/1 rating by Freedom House, shared only by Costa Rica and Uruguay).

    Stepping stones are not the destination. Proving that Pinochet was a brutal dictator doesn't actually refute the idea that his rule was a stepping stone to freedom.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    You can't make an economic omelet without breaking a few eggheads, after all.

  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    Proving that Pinochet was a brutal dictator doesn't actually refute the idea that his rule was a stepping stone to freedom.
    Unless that stepping stone is your grave marker. In which case, it's a hollow fkn victory.
    Utilitarianism again.

  • Gladstone||

    This strain is obviously prevalent in the modern left with its fondness for Top Men. Not to mention fondness for guys like Chavez and Castro.

    I also think past libertarian support for Commies was as some sort of attack of American Cold War policies (e.g. Rothbard's belief that the USSR was looking for world peace) and currently in opposition to WOT. You know saying that Kim Jung-Il, the Taliban and the Iranian mullahs are wonderful places is a good way to attack a possible war on them. Of course allying with antiwar lefties that love leftist dictatorships doesn't help either.

    Then there is this belief that since Communism is a fringe philosophy to radically reshape society that seizes power in a People' Revolution that it leads the way for libertarianism, another fringe philosophy to radically reshape society. Nevermind that Communists want to kill libertarians and crush dissent.

    Well we shouldn't forget Mises on Mussolini though to be fair it is pretty clear that he thought that Mussolini was merely less evil than the Communists.

  • sarcasmic||

    Would Ron Paul make a good dictator?

  • Chud||

    Unfortunately, I think he'd turn out to be a John Gill-like dictator.

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    You mean doped-up or comatose, while others run the State? a Woodrow Wilson-like dictator, in other words?

  • mjani||

    yes.

  • Brandybuck||

    No one is perfect, not even Murray Rothbard who once supported the North Vietnamese. But that won't stop the Murray Rothbard Institute in Auburn for chiseling out the name Hayek from every monument and pillar for the crime of apostasy.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    I know. Go look at this hack job. I can't believe all the insults and innuendo they throw at Hayek:

    http://mises.org/page/1454/Bio.....k-18991992

  • James Anderson Merritt||

    The kind of "libertarians" who would accept Pinochet must have been the same type of people who kept telling me during the relevant elections that George W. Bush was "our best hope for freedom," and who then went on to seriously entertain Bush's theory of the unitary executive and all of the related Presidential power-grabs, the benefit of which Mr. Obama now enjoys. I'm sorry to think that Mr. Hayek could have numbered among them, but it only goes to show that men are not gods, and to deify them is to put on your own blinders and shackles.

  • Randian||

    This is completely missing the point.

  • buybuydandavis||

    The world's an imperfect place. It's easy to sneer at what someone supports - not so easy to answer Sowell's question - "Compared to what?"

  • macsnafu||

    It would be nice if reality didn't always work the way it does, but unlike humans, it tends to be pretty consistent about cause and effect.

    Thus, we are forced to conclude that an immoral means towards a good end is not only unjustified, it can never actually accomplish its goal. That is, if we want to be consistent with reality.

  • T. Durden||

    Napoleon is pretty close to the ideal enlightened despot. He wasn't really repressive to the French people. He was repressive to the rest of Europe.

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