Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Social Capital and the Theft Trade

What's not to love about the story of the burglar who dialed 911, cowering in the bathroom afraid that the homeowner had a gun (she did not)?  But at the risk of being too professorial, let's make it into a teaching moment.  The topic is "social capital," and more precisely, the question of why libertarians are so much like burglars.

Hold your horses there, big guy.  I didn't say all libertarians are burglars, but they do share an important presupposition:  both of their trades presuppose a shared fund of good order, of civility and dependability, of respect for others,  which you just have to have if you are going to have a decent society, without which the crafts neither of burglary nor libertarianism will stand a chance.  It's the reason why Somalia is such a joke as libertarian utopia.  It's the reason why the fall of the Soviet Union proved such a disappointment to all those who believed that we'd all go to the seashore once the dead hand of socialism was removed from the Soviet throat.

Defenders of the libertarian model will protest that a government can't create this substrate of trust.  They are largely (though perhaps not entirely) right, but it's beside the point.  The point is that a captious and disruptive libertarianism can be just as much of a threat to good order as any amount of ham-handed government meddling.  It's the reason why Michael Oakeshott, that avatar of modern conservatism, never really warmed to the fetishized marketeering of his beloved friend Friedrich Hayek.   Or why the same Oakeshott, told that he was Margaret Thatcher's favorite conservative, never troubled to return the compliment.

I have said that I don't think all libertarians are burglars and I am quite sincere in this.  But I wonder if the reverse is true?  Can it be that all burglars are libertarians?  Probably not "all," but I could believe upwards of 80 percent.  Maybe it suffices to say that a socialist is a libertarian who needs to call 911. 

Update:  My friend Larry points out that it is an analog to the phenomenon in Japan where mafiosi have to register with the police.

1 comment:

Ebenezer Scrooge said...

I'd like to hear you hum a few more bars of this argument. It suggests a libertarian-conservative alliance, with the conservatives providing the social glue that the libertarians require. But then again, it is very hard to wed libertarianism and conservatism, although God knows, Hayek and Buckley tried, in their very different ways.