Jason Soon is called a “Singapore Libertarian” by another person. He in turn refers to others as “gun nuts”. And so on it goes.
The central problem of libertarianism is that it is a doctrinaire movement. Funnily enough this was diagnosed by the archdeacon of archdoctrine, Murray Rothbard, in a review of Marxist theories of left wing and right wing diversions from the cause. Left wing diversion was refusing to accept any compromise at all, sacrificing any potential gains on the altar of purity. Right wing diversion was being eager to be seen to fit into the establishment, to give too much up, to deny the heritage and ultimate goals of the movement.
Australian Libertarianism as it stands today seems to have kicked off a left-right bunfight of truly trot proportions, all to do with gun control in Australia.
The ideology of gun control and the right or otherwise to bear arms is American. We cannot fool ourselves otherwise: it is of an American origin. In Australia we ape the gun control debates of the USA. Those Australian libertarians who are pro-gun believe that their possession is a natural right, that they reduce crime through deterrence and that they form the core foundation of a resistance should tyranny arrive in this country from abroad or at home. They do not import what is to my mind the simplest and most potent argument in the USA: the fairly clear text of the Second Amendment.
Those Australian libertarians who favour gun control argue that possession of arms is not a natural right, that the research linking weapon ownership and lower crime is discredited or faulty and that the possession of guns do not prevent tyrannical behaviour, if Iraq and Guantanamo Bay are anything to go by. I’d have to add to the last argument that the ownership of small arms doesn’t matter any more, so much as access to explosives for IEDs.
All of this argumentation is destructive to the libertarian cause. Australians at large do not care about this debate. People are concerned about their jobs, their families, their friends, the organisations they take part in, the entertainment they receive. They tend not to care about guns when massacres are rare and possession uncommon. They care quite rightly about their daily lives. Libertarians should care about that too.
I have in the past argued that Australian libertarians, including and in particular the Liberal Democratic Party, should focus on “low hanging fruit”. These are policies which are simple, effective and which would have wide and immediate impact in the life of most Australians. I consider the LDP’s 30/30 income tax plan to be an outstanding example of such an effort, and I think it’s exactly the sort of policy they should focus on come election time.
The other reason that I argue for the low hanging fruit approach is that I have lost my taste for grand sweeping changes. I have gone through Mises and Rothbard, Hayek and Friedman and others of their like and been presented with various encompassing visions of greater and lesser detail. Several of them are very compelling, and for each there are acolytes eager to push the line that they should be transitioned too as fast as possible, lest special interests seen them slain. For a time I agreed.
But going back to computer science has helped me to rediscover modesty — at least I hope so — in particular the idea that the world has long since passed beyond the wit of any man or woman, no matter how brilliant. The low hanging fruit idea comes from the lessons of software optimisation: that you should do it piece by piece, making sure that each step moves from proven software to proven software, rather than trying to make several leaps at once. That way lies uncertainty, confusion, madness and probably failure.
That is why I see libertarianism not as a project of revolution within the form, not as a sudden transition from imperfection to perfection. It is the project of lifetimes. It is a project of not allowing the perfect to prevent the good, but rather of letting the good illuminate the perfect.
Most of all, libertarians must remain patient with their own. As a movement it is filled with the determined, the righteous and the intelligent. But it needs goodwill: goodwill and the understanding that if we create moral absolutes about matters in which people of good faith can disagree, soon there will be no good faith and the only moral absolute will be to destroy the other people.